herald

Thursday 17 April 2014

BUDGET: Gilmore has hung ordinary workers out to dry

"LABOUR is the party of work." That was one of Eamon Gilmore's mantras in last year's General Election as he tried to convince voters that he was the man to fix our unemployment crisis.

Today the Tanaiste might want to consider giving his organisation a change of name -- because this is a Budget that savages the ordinary worker and will leave more people in danger of getting ensnared in a poverty trap.

Labour's proudest boast is that it managed to protect the core weekly pay rates for social welfare recipients.

When you look at what they had to sacrifice instead, however, this looks like a pretty hollow victory. The junior coalition partners apparently had no great problem with the PRSI increases that will cost every single worker above the minimum wage an extra €264 -- no matter whether they are earning €20,000 or €20m a year.

The effect on low and middle-income families is hard to exaggerate.

Over the water, these people are referred to as "the squeezed middle" or "alarm clock Britain". They work long hours, put their kids in creches, spend a fortune on lunches and petrol -- then find that their pay packets are getting thinner and thinner.

Alarm clock Ireland should be the Labour Party's natural base. Instead, they feel alienated by a government that treats them as a cash cow while largely protecting a social welfare regime that is one of the most generous in Europe. When you add in the property tax, child benefit reduction, motor tax hike and shocking decision to hit maternity benefit, this Budget is the cruellest cut -- and we can hardly be surprised if more people start to wonder if there is any point in working at all.

The very rich can hire accountants to protect themselves. The very poor have a small army of charities and lobby groups to campaign for them.

It is those in the middle who feel nobody is looking out for them -- even though their taxes are keeping the Irish economy afloat.

All this explains why some of Labour's more intelligent TDs are nervous today. They know their leader crumbled in the pre-budget negotiations, settling for gimmicks such as the 'mansion tax' while hanging average workers out to dry.

When coalitions start to fail, it is usually the smaller party that gets the blame -- which is why well over half of Gilmore's colleagues are now living in mortal dread of losing their seats at the next election.

Above all, this Budget has failed to tackle one of Irish society's most glaring problems. The gap between what you earn by taking a low-paid job and what you get for doing nothing on the dole was already miniscule -- and Noonan's new PRSI regime will make it smaller.

Budget 2013 has asked Ireland's working poor to pick up the tab yet again. It is Labour who will pay the electoral price -- and Eamon Gilmore only has to read his old speeches to work out why.

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