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Budget 2014

Readers’ Panel Part One: What are you expecting from Budget 2014?

We spoke to some readers about their hopes and fears ahead of tomorrow’s budget. Here’s what they had to say, in their own words.

“YOU’LL BE ASTOUNDED at all the good news I’ll be announcing”: That is what Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said our reaction will be to tomorrow’s Budget announcement.

However, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin told the public in a video message published this morning was that “the Budget will not be easy, that’s a given”.

But what are your own hopes and fears ahead of next week?

We asked. You responded.

In the first of two readers’ panels (Part Two will be published tomorrow morning), we get the views of:

  1. Couple, working, with children
  2. Small business owner
  3. Public sector worker
  4. Full-time carer
  5. Single parent

image1. Una, lives in a small Westmeath village with a population of just over 300. She and her husband are both self-employed, and have three young children. She believes rural areas are being, and will continue to be, neglected by the government.

Over the last few years, we have been constantly cutting back on spending and now forgo such luxuries as Health Insurance, Pension Schemes and I am terrified to put the car to the NCT as it is in such bad nick from the rural roads of Westmeath.

We are both graduates with professional qualifications. I was a full time  journalist with the Westmeath Examiner and I now freelance with my regular work being used by the same paper, along with the Mullingar Advertiser and the radio station Midlands 103.

I live in a state of constant anxiety about the fact that we simply have no money to put away. The cost of sending children to primary school is high and when our youngest child starts secondary school next year we can expect to add another €2,500 to that, excluding transport costs.

I am worried that in five years we will need substantial money for university that will run for a decade and a half as each, then we will need huge money for pensions and all I have is worry as I do not have the money to repair or replace a car I am too scare to put in for an NCT.

Add to that the fact that rural Ireland is peripheral to all services and this adds an increasing burden to the cost of living not felt in urban areas. I also feel very strongly we are not being provided with the services that we should be, and in the last decade the government has grown to rely on people fundraising to meet the needs of the community, which is and of itself another tax.

Our small community here bought the national school its playing fields and interactive whiteboards (which are nothing more that overhead projectors without the high speed broadband the government failed to deliver), the palliative care hospices rely entirely on charity, as does the river Search and Rescue, the older people’s groups, the sports clubs — in fact people are starting to talk about having to repair the roads themselves!

This is essentially a stealth tax on people in rural Ireland, absenting responsibility for services, knowing the community will have to fundraise and provide.

image2. John Brophy is owner of Carrig Solutions, an IT company based in County Wicklow that employs nine people and is currently Company of The Year as voted by Wicklow Chamber of Commerce. He believes that this year’s Budget needs to be a positive one to restore consumer confidence fully, and should also include measures which encourage people to take on employment over Jobseekers payments.

Carrig Solutions was formed in November 2009, and since then we’ve actually thrived during the recession. We mainly focused on delivering a high quality service, and while it may not be the cheapest service, we want to do every job we’re given as well as we can.

What would hit us most tomorrow would be any VAT increases, which we think should be avoided completely. A lot of our customers are unable to reclaim VAT, so any increase in that would affect how much they are willing to spend. What would also hit us, and most other businesses, is if there is no hope in the Budget.

Around this time last year we felt that there was some kind of change coming across consumers, that they felt the worst was over and we expected January and February to be good. The Budget simply knocked everyone back again, and set everything back three or four months because the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a train.

For businesses owners, if there is less cash in their own pocket, they’re less likely to spend money on their company. It has a knock-on effect, which means that businesses don’t grow and don’t move forward.

The difference between the lower end of the pay scale and social welfare benefits is far too close. We’ve had occasions when we offered people jobs, and they declined as it will only be worth an extra euro or two an hour so they don’t consider it worth giving up their social welfare payments.

They have to remember that they are not going to be paid big money if it is their first job. More needs to be done to encourage people back into the workforce. For example, a possibility could be a free bus pass for the first six months of someone leaving a Jobseekers payment and taking on a job.

image3. Pete is a public sector worker in Sligo County Council. He feels Budget 2014 will be very similar to other years, and that his pay-cheque will continue to be stretched. He also believes that not enough reform has been introduced to Local Authorities, where money could be saved.

Most local authorities around the country can be seen as a microcosm of what went wrong with Ireland. The profligacy and bad decisions made locally can be transposed on to a national scale. There has been talk of overhauling the whole system but we will still be left with the same old problems, and money is being wasted.

I have yet to see someone willing to the grab the nettle and say “Right, we’re going to make a really serious change with how this system works”. The dog in the street knows that the public sector is not as efficient as it could be, and we as a country deserve a world class service.

Personally, any minor changes tomorrow will stretch my own budget even further. Despite having a relatively good job, having to pay for my own rent and household bills, along with providing for my children and paying the mortgage on a house from a previous marriage, means my monthly pay check needs to go a long way.

We will also see more of the same as we’ve seen in other years. The old reliables like booze and smokes will be raised, along with maybe motor tax, although the government may be happy with the revenue gained from the change in the law in relation to cars which have been off the road for a number of months.

What I would like to see most tomorrow is those at the upper end of the payscale paying more, along the lines of increasing Capital Gains Tax. There’s been talk of that and it wouldn’t be the worst thing to increase. People say that if we tax the rich, some large corporations would leg it, but we have to consider how much that will really affect our economy.

I would like to see this sort of thing start at the top. There has been a lot of talk of Seanad reform recently, so let’s start now by reducing Senators pay.

Another measure which should be considered it means testing medical cards and children allowance. The government says it would be too expensive, but we have to look at it if wealthy well-off people continue to avail of these services when they have no need to.

4. Catherine Sims from Limerick City is a carer for her 13-year-old son and her elderly father. She is currently claiming half-rate Carer’s Allowance, but feels that any other cuts will push her financial situation over the edge.

I am currently on half-rate Carer’s Allowance, and I care full time for both my son and my father. My son is 13, has a severe learning difficulty, is almost profoundly deaf, and also has several other medical issues, and my father was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I had to give up work a couple of years ago to care for them full-time, and it has been hard adjusting from a monthly salary down to just benefits, which are slowly but surely being chipped away — with both direct and indirect cuts.

This is a result of the combination taxes such as water charges, property taxes, and the cut to the respite care grant. It is getting harder and harder for carers. I have even taken the step of preparing my CV over the past few weeks, although how I will balance a job with my caring duties I do not know, as we’ve already been warned by the Carers Association that half-rate Carer’s Allowance is likely to be cut tomorrow

I currently do not claim any payment for the care of my father, I have been able to manage up to now. Any cuts tomorrow could push me over the edge tomorrow and I’m really worried that my father’s care will have to be taken over by the state. I’ve used up all my savings.

Carers have to deal with an awful lot of worries. Am I going to be able to heat the house? Am I going to be able keep my old banger of a car on the road? Will I have enough nappies to last me the month? I would love if the government did not cause us any more worries and simply left us alone tomorrow.

5. Sarah* is a 21-year-old single mother and student in University College Dublin. Two months ago she secured rent allowance and was able to move out of a homeless centre for mothers and babies. She says that a number of aspects of social welfare need to be looked at

I’m currently back in college, attempting to finally complete my degree. I was originally studying abroad, but had to return home for personal reasons. I am currently surviving on lone parents allowance, but I don’t want that to go on for long. I want to get a job. For the time being though, it is hard, and any cuts won’t make things any easier for me.

What the government needs to do in tomorrows budget is address some social welfare issues, both in terms of savings and making people’s lives a little easier.

For me, moving into private property from a homeless centre for mothers and babies was a nightmare. Some landlords closed the door in my face when I told them I was on rent allowance. They wouldn’t even consider me. They have a stereotype ingrained in their heads about people on rent allowance, which frequently isn’t accurate.

From what I saw in the mother and baby refuge, mothers were repeatedly wasting money they were given. A lot of them were drug addicts, and would simply spend 90 per cent of the money they were given feeding their habit. They were essentially robbing their children’s food.

The government really needs to look at this kind of waste in the social welfare systems. Perhaps food stamps could be a way of reducing this, and would benefit both the mothers and children as the money can not be spent on drugs or alcohol, and the tax payer as the money will be spent as it is meant to be spent.

Another was the free travel pass. Obviously some people, be it if they require a wheelchair, or are deaf of blind, really benefit from such allowances. However, not everyone in receipt of a disability payment needs free travel.

(*person wished to remain anonymous, but identity is known to

Tomorrow morning we will bring you the views of people from these categories:

  • Single and working
  • Unemployed person
  • Pensioner
  • Student
  • Someone who has emigrated since Budget 2013

Outside Dublin: How Budget 2014 will affect us all >

Open thread: As we await Budget 2014, what makes you happy?

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