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To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he plans to equality proof cuts made by him in Budget 2014;  and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace

For ORAL reply on Wednesday, 9th October 2013

REPLY

With regard to next week’s Budget, while the primary objective has been to reduce the deficit and return stability to the public finances, it has been of vital importance to the Government to spread the burden of adjustments in as fair and as equitable a manner as possible whilst also seeking to minimise any negative impact on economic growth.  Furthermore, it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that all available resources are spent carefully and that critical public services continue to be delivered.

In this context, the Government recognises that expenditure on social supports has an important impact on stabilising our domestic economy through supporting the overall demand for goods and services.  Over the past few years, we have maintained primary weekly rates of social welfare payments.  In 2013 we will spend €20.2 billion on Social Welfare.  This means that all pensioners and all those under 66, such as people with disabilities and jobseekers, have had their weekly primary payments fully maintained since this Government took office.

Similarly, in the area of Education, the Government has protected DEIS resources.  In Budget 2013, for example, we ensured that there was no overall change to DEIS-related staffing levels or DEIS funding. As part of the DEIS programme, over the course of this year some €93 million is being provided to 850 schools supporting 167,000 pupils.  This funding is provided, in addition to the normal funding allocation, to address educational disadvantage by prioritising the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities, from pre-school right through second-level education.

All Ministers are responsible for assessing policy proposals in their areas and considerations of equality form an important component of budgetary discussions by Government.  When making Government decisions on Budget matters, the Government is very much aware of issues such as gender equality, persons experiencing or at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and people with disabilities. These proposals are now under careful consideration by Government in advance of finalising the 2014 Estimates and on Budget day, the Government will publish illustrative cases showing the effect of major changes in revenue and certain social welfare payments.

Furthermore, as the Deputy is aware, I introduced the new ‘whole-of-year’ budgeting reform, which was announced in the Comprehensive Expenditure Report 2012-2014.  This new process has been designed to enhance the role and the policy relevance of the Oireachtas in particular with regard to the role of Committees in ex-ante consideration of resource allocation priorities in each area.  In the future, I intend that this will provide a forum in which Oireachtas Committees and Departments can assess and discuss the equality implications of any policy proposal in advance of the final Estimates decisions.

With regard to the progressive nature of the Budget, I would like to point out to the Deputies that the ESRI recently published analysis on the distributional impacts of Budgets 2009 to 2013.  Their analysis shows that the overall adjustment to date has been progressive in nature with the lowest losses occurring in the lower income deciles and the highest losses in the top income deciles.  In addition to this, I feel it is important to point out that Ireland’s tax and benefits system has been shown by the OECD to be highly redistributive with the tax system shown to be the most progressive of developed economies.

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