Budget 2014

It came as a bit of a surprise today to hear that Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, had announce an across-the-board drop of 10% in income tax, a stimulus package for business, a doubling of all welfare payments, a huge investment in our natural resources (including fisheries), the abolition of all college fees including registration and the discovery within the cabinet of fully sustainable cold fusion. 

Equally, I was surprised he didn’t announce the summary execution of all students, forced exile for single mothers and non-catholics, 20 euro on a ten-box of fags, a 5c levy on every inhalation and a national allocation of 10 shiny pennies per month per household. 

See, either of those seem to have been the expectation of the vast majority of people today. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the budget landed somewhere between the two? Sure, as an occasional commentator it would have been great to see an outright giveaway (McCreevy, anyone?) or a harshfest of Haugheyan proportion, if only because it’s much easier to rant about an extreme. The truth is that today’s budget contained a little good, a little bad, and a whole pile of necessity. A quick reminder that as a nation we owe roughly 55,000 per man, woman and child in the entire country to our sovereign creditors should help contextualise the need (yes, need) to remove 3 billion from the economy through a combination of tax increases and welfare cuts. Unfortunately for this years government prom queen, because we pay a sum total of fuck all income tax in this country (relative to others, of course), the welfare cuts had to be broad ranging. Rather than come down heavy on the easy, shouty sides of the debate, lets look at what’s actually been served up here.

 

TAXES

Income tax increase? No, of course not. VAT? This close to Christmas? Kiss next years local elections goodbye if any more businesses go under “because of VAT”. Fuel? No, that’s been left alone as well. Universal Social Charge? Staying exactly as it is. Right there are four optional tax increases the government didn’t take, possibly because they’ve finally (and rightly) come to terms with the fact that the Irish currently don’t have two shits to rub together. Grand. So where do taxes come into play? 

Same place they always do, that’s where. On FUN. Are you a smoker? That’ll be 10c a box, and believe me that number could have been much higher if Minister Reilly’s plans for a “tobacco-free Ireland by 2030” announced last week had any real intent to them. Fuck the fags, it’s cold outside anyway, right? In for a pint. WELL HOLD ON A MINUTE. That’s another 10c a go, thanks. Obviously for anyone that’s familiar with Irish pubs, this means a practical increase of 20 – 50 cent per pint, depending on which crook runs your watering hole of choice. Hey, maybe we can just stay in and drink a bottle of wine, right? NOOOOPE. On top of last year’s 1e tax it’s another 50c on your bottle of wine. Strangely, however, beer and spirits from the off licence remain untouched. I’ve said it many times before, and it’s never been more true – Few cans, be grand.

 

EDUCATION

A sudden hush falls over the room, as we peer, terrified at the reports to see….that it’s not too bad either. 1250 new teachers to be recruited with no increase in classroom sizes, all good on that front. No mention of third level really, a little worrying given the promises that there would be cuts aplenty just a month ago. I’ll take a quiet minor victory, as long as the new recruits don’t get exploited in the same way JobBridge “creates employment”.

 

CONSTRUCTION

A new 12.5% tax rebate on any home improvements between 5 and 30 grand? Grand, indeed. To me it says one or both of the following

  • Builders are great lads really, and it’d be a shame to see them all go out there to Australia. Surely you’ve a bit of roofing work for them?
  • Negative equity, is it? Shut your fucking wordhole and fix the house you’re already in. 

Take your pick.

 

BUSINESS

 

Tax exemptions for startups, VAT staying static, chambers of commerce around the country are positively glowing. Corporate tax rates stay the same because fuck you, American government, we’ve got our racket going and there’s not a goddamned thing you can do about it. The banks collectively pay a levy of 150 million a year, which would be top laugh except that while they effectively belong to the state, we see no profits from them. Meaning, of course, that any bank that sees a sudden tax will pass their costs on to us, the customers / diddled owners. Look forward to transaction fees going up folks.

HEALTHCARE

Free GP visits for all the under 5s is a great idea in theory, at least from an ethical point of view. Why the hell not have universal healthcare for the youngest? Sadly though, this idea misses two opportunities. Firstly there was the chance to do something about the frankly outrageous cost of prescriptions, which of course wasn’t taken (in fact medical card holders now pay 2.50 per prescription). Also, why the fuck wasn’t this means tested? I’m sure it’s important that Bono be able to take any toddlers he might cook up to the doctor for free, but really, given how tight it’s about to get on the medical cards, what was the purpose of this? Yes, you guessed it, to win votes.

About the medical cards – 113 million is earmarked to come out of what’s spent on them. Twice today I heard Minister for social protection and standing in front of bullets aimed at Noonan, Brendan Howlin, being asked what the cut would look like. Both times he reminded us that 1.9 million people are on medical cards, some of whom shouldn’t be (ok, with you so far Brendan), and that 40% of everything spent is on welfare. Alarm bells all round. Of course we spend a lot of money on welfare, it’s that thing that keeps a lot of people from becoming , like, dead. The criteria are obviously about to change, and don’t be surprised if the elderly do badly out of this one, too.

BENEFITS

“Our young people should be in education” – Minister Noonan, earlier today.

“Yes, but until they’re twentyfuckisix, you twat? Who in the name of god is going to pay for that? Do you really want everyone in the country to have a PhD before the enter the workforce full time? Sweet lord, man, don’t piss on our backs and call it rain. You’re cutting jobseekers because you know the young won’t vote. You’re doing it because they’re leaving in droves. You’re doing it because you can and you can do it without fear of reprisal” – Me, just now.

Jobseekers benefit took a bit of a kicking alright, merely adding to the armies of tweenagers that can’t get out and start their own lives because economics forces them to stay living at home, supported by an already strained parent or two. You’ll get your chance for revenge in two summers, when it’s time for the general election. You’ll remember this, and god willing you’ll vote. 

 As for the pensioners…..well, that’s the shout of the day really, isn’t it? 

About 2 years ago, a wonderful story started to do the rounds on the internet about elderly volunteers stepping up to clean fallout from the Fukushima disaster. Their logic was simple: Taking 5 years off our life expectancy isn’t going to have much impact anyway, so why send in the young people? This altruistic act of common sensibility and fraternity with younger generations quickly got its boots around the world via several million inboxes and news feeds. Imagine if, instead of volunteering, the elderly had been sent off to the radioactive scrub to toil against their will, with the justification being the “greater good” of protecting “the younger, more valuable people”.

Up until now, pensioners had most if not all of their landline bills covered. I know for a fact that many of these landlines, while relics of a pre-snapchat age, were the only line of communication for many older citizens in remote, rural areas. These are not people that are going to run out and immediately buy mobile phones, nor would half of them have any fucking coverage even if they did. The saving for the state has been absolutely minimal. Admittedly the pension, fuel allowance and free travel have been spared, but there’s this awful thing that tends to happen when you isolate the elderly, especially when they’re alone. Much has been taken for minimal gain. The justification will be the free GP visits, but really, does anyone believe they would have set them up if there wasn’t the clanking of a ballot box just around the corner?

 

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Budget 2014

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