The budget announcement yesterday did not contain many surprises. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe announced a spending increase of 1.2 billion euro.
Both housing and health will see huge increases. O’Donohue highlighted the “corrosive impact of homelessness” when delivering the increased spending. Additionally, an extra five euro will be added to social welfare payments each week, and Christmas spending will also see an increase.
Unsurprisingly, the price of cigarettes will be hiked again, with the price of 20 cigarettes going up by 50 cents, and a 30g pouch of tobacco will now cost over 15 euro. The government have also introduced a sugar tax for sugary drinks aims to tackle obesity and incentivise companies to produce less sugary products.
Varadkar said of the budget that there would be “no big bonanza” but that it would be “a step forward”. We can see his earlier commitments to please the middle class realised, as the higher rate of income level tax has been raised by 750 euro, and the USC has been cut. The USC cut will aim to help what Varadkar has previously termed “the squeezed middle”.
This budget was definitely not a big bonanza. It offered a bland, unambitious vision for Ireland which will certainly please everyone Varadkar hopes it will, but which will do nothing for the young people of this country. It offers only meagre titbits for those who actually lost out during austerity, and for those who are without accommodation. Its 1.5 billion euro ‘rainy day’ fund was seen as a slap in the face by many who believe such funding is needed now in emergency areas such as homelessness.
Happily, the Department of Children will see a 1.38 billion euro allocation, which Minister for Children Katherine Zappone hopes to see benefiting the range of schemes in the childcare sector. The increased spending will be particularly beneficial for Tusla, who will see a 40 million euro increase.
However when it comes to third level, USI President Michael Kerrigan has said that the budget is “leaving students behind”. Kerrigan acknowledged the contribution to infrastructure investment that has been made in the 2018 budget, however other aspects of student life, such as mental health services, and SUSI grant thresholds, have not been addressed adequately in this budget.
Given that last Wednesday thousands of students marched in opposition to student loans and for improved grant thresholds, one would have hoped that the budget would have done more for us.
The highly-educated young people of Ireland are among the things the government uses to lure in investment from big corporations, along with our obscenely low corporation tax which has not been altered. Our skills and education levels act as bait for such companies.
Yet it seems the government is uninterested in making a committed investment in the welfare of its own young people, or in assisting those who are finding it ever more difficult to access third level education.
Also criticised was the lack of improvement in spending on the arts. The budget for the arts was only increased by three million euro, leaving little room for improvements. The arts council of Ireland and the National Campaign for the Arts both expressed dismay at the limited increase in the Irish Times. This further illustrates the government’s priorities in terms of who to satisfy with this budget,
In the wake of Brexit much of the budget was about preparing irish infrastructure for the consequences. Ireland will see an influx of people and businesses, especially Dublin, which will put a further strain on the housing and rental market in the capital. More will need to be done to assist those trying to navigate those markets.
Fine Gael’s laissez-faire attitude to assisting young people, or people who aren’t middle class, leaves us with a budget that may read nicely, and which includes some attractive gimmicks, but does almost nothing to advance any kind of plan for Ireland that will allow it to become a state that actually provides world class healthcare or education, or that can actually house anyone fairly.