All Labour Party Deputies started their remarks by telling us about the deplorable state of the economy, but its condition was common knowledge when they contested the election and promised to be the guardians of people’s welfare against that backdrop. Over the past few days, all of us have received letters from Barnardos, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Social Justice Ireland and others that are hardly the most radical campaigners or mad lunatics begging and pleading with this Government to call a halt to the butchery it has engaged in and to reverse some of the decisions it plans to ram through. If this process is to be meaningful, the Government should take heed. The expression “protecting the vulnerable” has been the most misused phrase in vogue over the past number of days. In reality, it is code for kicking the living daylights out of those at the bottom of society. It is nothing more than nauseating hypocrisy from the Labour Party, in particular, when people had such hope that it would offer something different. In fairness to Vincent Browne, as he spent the week saying, one would be hard-pressed to find a single vulnerable person or group who this Government has not targeted. The Government has gone after every one of them and if that is what protecting the vulnerable means, it is a severe misuse of language.
The Government has been forced to pull back on the attack on disabled young people. It displayed some brass neck that anyone could consider reducing the income of these young people by €88 or 42% at the same time as it leaves the wealth of those at the top of society untouched. We know that this is a stunt in order to have a headline saying that the Government did not attack basic social welfare rates. Behind that, the reality is a devastating blow with many other stealth attacks behind the scenes. We must see this in the context of the reports issued by Social Justice Ireland, the European Anti Poverty Network Ireland and others, who were quite clear in advance of this budget that the unemployed, lone parents and those out of work on disability are those with the greatest level of poverty and that poverty levels of those at work has increased over the past number of years. Continuing or implementing policies such as increasing VAT, flat rate charges and attacks on social welfare only increases the inequality. That is what the Labour Party Government has done. It is correct to pinpoint the remarks of Deputy Burton when she said the cuts of last year were on top of two previous sets of butchery. Not only has she not reversed the cuts, the Government has added more cuts. Over the past number of years, there has been a 10% reduction in social welfare, with 4% over each of the past two years and a 2% reduction in the axing of the Christmas bonus. The Minister has not touched any of this.
It is lunacy to say that the social welfare rates in Ireland are too high. Against an EU average of 27% of GDP spent on social welfare, Ireland only spends 18%. We are not interested in the waffle that social welfare payments have been protected. Why did the Minister not reverse the cuts implemented by Fianna Fáil when she railed against them in opposition? That is why people voted for Labour and they are sorely disappointed. This Government had choices and chose to target those at the bottom. The point about lone parents was well made and that is the group with most deprivation in society. Over €100 million has been taken out of their pockets.
Against a backdrop of rising prices and an earlier cut in allowances, a cut was made to fuel allowance. The CSO told us that 14% of people in local authority houses would not be able to heat their homes. What is the solution? It is to cut their fuel allowance even further, as if that will help considerably. The Minister’s press release says, in justification, the size and duration of the allowance has greatly increased over the past ten years. The scheme is unsustainable according to the press release of the Minister. In order to save €51 million, a pittance in the overall scale of things, a measure was taken that will costs lives and cause extreme hardship. One sixth of that amount could be raised by tinkering with a hike of less than 1% in corporation tax on a sector that generated profits of €37 billion last year. I do not have time to make points other than that on the community employment scheme. It is disgraceful that this is being downplayed as it will cause huge damage. I strenuously encourage everyone to turn out at the protest tomorrow at 2 p.m. to make this Government see sense in that regard, rethink its policies, go after those at the top who have money and stop picking on those at the bottom.