22 November 2000
Share the Wealth in Budget 2001
In setting out our pre-Budget proposals it is important to stress that Sinn Fein's approach to the economy is distinctive, radical and rational. We are not prisoners of the unbridled free market thinking which has dominated the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition. We reject their primary economic policy of cutting taxes in a way which has disproportionately benefited the higher paid. This crude device worsens the structural inequality in the Irish economy.
A measure of the gross inequality in this State today is the fact a quarter of children and a fifth of adults are in households with less than half average income. The gap between the wealthiest in our society and the least well off continues to widen. We in Sinn Fein make no apology for aiming to eradicate that divide completely. Our approach has come under fire lately from none other than the Progressive Democrats who are warning the Irish people that Sinn Fein participation in government would ruin the economy.
This is amusing coming from a party whose policies in governments since its foundation have consistently favoured the privileged in our society. And what is there to fear from providing homes for the homeless, improved health services for the thousands on waiting lists, equal access to education for all and proper childcare? This is what Sinn Fein stands for and we recognise that to achieve the best services possible for our people, those in this society who can most afford it must pay their fair share. Do the PDs fear real equality?
Our people need, demand and deserve public services of the highest standard which enhance the quality of life for all citizens equally. A workforce which is equitably taxed is more than willing to pay for those services which they have elected the government to provide. In successive budgets this government has addressed greed not need. In Budget 2000 three times more was spent on tax reduction than on social welfare increases.
As a State with among the lowest tax takes as a percentage of Gross National Product in the EU there is much scope to increase taxation for those who can most afford it. Failure to do so, and continuing the policy of tax cuts for big business and the very wealthy, will damage the long-term ability of government to build infrastructure and provide public services.
Sinn Fein called on the government in the last three budgets to use its unprecedented resources to eliminate poverty, end the housing crisis and redress regional inequalities. We had a right to expect major progress on these issues. Instead we have seen the poverty gap widened, the housing crisis unabated and economic growth and development still concentrated along the eastern seaboard and in parts of the South.
Budget 2001 may well be this government's last opportunity to frame a Budget which really tackles the gross inequalities in Irish society. Sinn Fein believes the priorities must be:
- Concentration of resources on the provision of health, education, transport and social welfare services which enhance the quality of life of all citizens.
- Taxation justice not crude tax cuts which benefit the wealthy.
- The creation of accessible and affordable Childcare infrastructure and generous Childcare support for parents and children.
- An all-out attack on the housing crisis.
We are placing special emphasis in this Submission on Childcare.
We need a Childcare Strategy which values equally all children and parents, ensures the provision of quality regulated Childcare services and prioritises the needs of children and families experiencing disadvantage and social exclusion. We need to establish a State-assisted and state-wide Childcare Service, in urban and rural areas, in tandem with existing service-providers such as the Border Counties Childcare Network. Therefore we propose that the full amount of revenue accruing from payment of previously unpaid DIRT by financial institutions be devoted to the provision of Childcare, in addition to capital funding already earmarked for this area.
The Budget must include immediate action to make Childcare affordable. Sinn Fein proposes:
- Substantial increase in Child Benefit. The commitment made in the PPF should be implemented in full in Budget 2001. This would involve an increase of £33.50 per month for the first and second child and an increase of £44.00 for the third and subsequent children. This would bring the payment for the first and second child up to £76 per month (about £17.50 per week) and it would bring the payment for the third and subsequent children up to £100 per month (or about £23 per week).
- Weekly payment increases and Child Benefit increases to be introduced at the same time in January 2001 or as soon as practicable thereafter.
In the area of Taxation Justice Sinn Fein believes that Budget 2001 presents a golden opportunity to accomplish two things:
- Remove the low paid completely out of the tax net.
- Initiate a complete reform of the tax system focusing on all areas of the tax code including the loopholes and tax avoidance schemes built into the present system.
Sinn Fein proposes one clear-cut radical measure to tackle low-pay poverty - major increase in tax free allowances. This would mean, for example, doubling the single person's tax free allowance to £11,400. A single person would not pay tax unless he or she earned over £11,400 per annum and would not pay the higher rate of income tax until their earnings exceeded £28,400 per annum.
On Housing it is incredible, given the massive need we see all around us, that only 8% of all houses are being built by the local authorities or voluntary sector. This is by far the lowest share for any period in the past century. Since 1996 the number on local authority waiting lists has risen by 43%. Therefore we propose:
- Target for elimination of waiting lists by local authorities, with an immediate target of 70% of applicant units to be provided with suitable accommodation within two years of their being on the list, as recommended by the report of the National Social and Economic Forum.
- Massive State investment in a comprehensive Social Housing Programme, funding the local authorities to house our citizens.
- The control of land prices with a statutory ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce soaring housing prices. A constitutional amendment to allow for this if necessary.
- Statutory control of rents in the private rented sector, strengthened laws to set standards for accommodation and more resources to implement those regulations.
We believe our proposals are sensible, achievable and equitable. We commend them to this government and we urge them to Share the Wealth in Budget 2001. ENDS
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