A Budget to benefit all - except the disabled, rural Ireland, and those waiting for a house?

Galway politicians highlight benefits and drawbacks in Budget 2016

The increase in incomes due to changes in the USC, and the savings that will be made as a result of the extension of free GP care, and a second free pre-school year, will "more than cover the extra costs incurred by water charges and the property tax".

This is the view of Labour Galway West TD Derek Nolan, who welcomed yesterday's Budget, announced by the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, in Dáil Éireann, saying "every community around Ireland can now look to a better future". The 'every home will benefit' line was also taken by Dep Nolan's Government colleague, Fine Gael TD Seán Kyne, who said it "extends the recovery to every household with a sensible mix of tax cuts, targeted spending, and increases in social protection payments".

However the reception for Budget 2016 was by no means universal, with Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh pointing out the "failure to invest in Gaeltacht", and more broadly, the absence of any measures "to address the challenges faced by rural communities"; while Fianna Fáil Galway East TD Colm Keaveney declared it had failed to restore the Housing Adaptation Grant, and that it "overlooked" people with disabilities.

Benefits to couples with children

The main points from Budget 2016 are, an increase in minimum wage from January 1 by 50c to €9.15 per hour; the USC rates cut and the threshold raised to €13,000 – removing 700,000 from its scope of the USC; €3 increase in State Pensions; the Pension Levy to be abolished from January 2016; 50c increase on pack of cigarettes; Inheritance tax threshold exemption raised from €225,000 to €280,000; Property tax rates to remain the same until at least 2019; €70 million to tackle homelessness in 2016; funding for an additional 600 gardaí in 2016; extension of Free GP Care to all children up to 12; increase of child benefit by €5 to €140 per child.

Dep Nolan said changes to the Universal Social Charge will increase annual take-home pay "significantly", whiled the 50c increase in the minimum wage from €8.65 to €9.15 per week will have "a hugely positive impact on those on low incomes".

In relation to measures which affect children, he said the increase in child benefit will "ease the financial pressure on parents" and give them "increased financial certainty on a weekly basis"; as will the introduction of free pre-school for children aged three to five; while the extension of the free GP care, "means no parent with a child under 12 has to worry about the cost of bringing their son or daughter to the doctor when they are sick". Dep Nolan also welcomed the reduction of the pupil teacher ratio from 28:1 to 27:1 and the delivery of 2,260 more teachers and extra SNAs across the country.

Extending on that theme, Dep Seán Kyne said Budget 2016 would "protect" the most vulnerable in society, and the increases in child benefit, the fuel allowance, restoration of the respite care grant, the rise in thresholds for the Family Income Supplements, and the 75 per cent restoration of the Social Welfare Christmas bonus, "will help raise living standards across Galway".

Budget an 'Insult To Rural Ireland' and the disabled

Claims by deputies Nolan and Kyne that the Budget will benefit families across Galway were called into question by SF Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, who pointed out the Budget's "failure to invest" in Gaeltacht and rural areas.

“The record of this Government in respect of rural Ireland has been disgraceful," he said, "and Budget 2016 has not included one measure to address the challenges faced by rural communities across the State. The rate of poverty among rural dwellers has increased significantly under the current Government and Budget 2016 demonstrates clearly the Government’s lack of vision for a fair recovery that spreads further than the large urban centres. It is an insult to rural Ireland."

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil spokesperson on mental health and special needs, and Galway East TD, Colm Keaveney, said that despite the restoration of the respite care grant, "there is very little" in Budget 2016 for people with disabilities.

He pointed out that the €3 increase in pensions does not apply to those in receipt of Invalidity Pension or the Blind Pension. He also noted that the Budget "failed to restore" the Housing Adaptation Grant for people with a disability, and "offered no alternative" to the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport scheme which were closed in 2013.

"People with disabilities have been overlooked in this Budget and will not see their living standards improve in 2016," he said. "Much of the infrastructure required for people with disabilities to lead full and independent lives has been dismantled by the current Government. Budget 2016 is a missed opportunity and fails to enhance the lives of people with a disability."

Building enough homes?

Included in the Budget announcement yesterday was that NAMA is to build 80 new homes per week to 2020, but according to the Construction Industry Federation, this will only deliver to 4,000 units per annum, which equates to only 25 per cent of broadly acknowledged annual national demand. The CIF added that there are also no proposals to address the issue of costs of providing new homes, the availability of affordable development finance, or the availability of mortgages.

While the CIF said it was "broadly supportive" of Budget 2016, with its extension to the Home Renovation Grant, the increased provision for social housing, and measures to assist self-employed, it said the 80 new homes per week measure "may be a lost opportunity to support the construction of much needed additional homes to meet sustainable demand".

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