Taoiseach, Budget 2022 must be different; we have a once in a generation opportunity, as we work our way out of this pandemic, to restructure our economy.
We, the Regional Independent TDs, are firmly of the view that this Budget cannot just be about closing the gaps which have emerged during the pandemic but it must also implement a strategy and support structures that will ensure every person in Ireland can grow and be supported in our recovery.
First and foremost, we must ensure that we have a tax and welfare system where “work always pays”:
Returning to work must be the most financially beneficial option for individuals and families.
This is the most effective way to break the cycle of poverty in families.
Every child should have a healthy environment, a home and an education.
And while there are many different ways to measure poverty, for me the most basic measure is hunger.
No child should go to bed hungry.
A child will never reach his or her full potential if that child sits at a school desk hungry yet according to a study by the State agency Safefood, 1 in 10 of our population lives in food poverty.
The best way to boost incomes of poor families is by removing cliff edge barriers to work, embedded our tax and welfare codes.
For example removing the anomaly where workers who earn over €352/week face a very high marginal PRSI rate of 23.6% on that additional income up to €424/week.
Or introducing a sliding scale of welfare payments so people don’t find themselves better off out of work than in work.
Taoiseach, we have all been contacted by employers who are finding it difficult to fill positions, or where employees refuse overtime or where they will only work 3 days per week.
The fact is that both individuals and families are deterred from returning to work or accepting additional hours for fear they will be penalised by the welfare system and the related supports.
For example, the income limits for social housing have not increased in a decade while property prices have doubled over the same period, forcing people to turn down work or face the prospect of homelessness.
This has to be turned on its head and our tax & welfare system must actively support people to return to the workforce in any capacity.
Work must always be a better option than welfare and the very first place we should start is with a radical overhaul of the working family payment both in terms of its exclusions and its rates of support, to always make it financially better for families to access employment, regardless of their make-up.
Taoiseach it’s not all about reform – there are already many supports to help people transition from welfare but that is of little use if we cannot get that message out.
We need a single Government interface that shows how starting work or increasing hours can increase income. Building on the Department of Social Protection’s, Benefit of Work Estimator, we need an individualised income calculator that is much clearer on eligibility for a range of entitlements, which often causes confusion.
And we must make sure that a “work always pays” strategy is not about encouraging people into low paid employment, but about giving them the skills for today’s economy, so they have the ability to earn more, and progress in their careers.
The Welfare website must also provide a user-friendly interface that outlines the supports and options for education and retraining.
“Work always pays” must be about giving people real hope and the opportunity improve access to education and employment and reverse these unacceptable levels of poverty in our country.