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Readers' Panel: What are you expecting from the Budget?

We spoke to a wide range of TheJournal.ie readers about their hopes and fears for this week’s Budget. Here’s what they had to say.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will deliver the second part of the Budget on Tuesday afternoon
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will deliver the second part of the Budget on Tuesday afternoon
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

IT’S GOING TO be the the fourth austerity Budget in a row that Ireland has faced – and all the signs suggest that the government is considering cuts in every possible area.

We wanted to know what you thought about it.

We’ve asked a number of TheJournal.ie readers what they’re expecting from the Budget: where they think they’re going to be hit and what their fears are about VAT, motor tax, social welfare payments, the household charge, and all the other areas rumoured to be targeted by the coalition.

Below are are a selection of their views. We’ll be speaking to all of these people again on Tuesday once the Budget has been announced to get their reaction. Was it was bad as they’d expected? Were there any particular surprises? Did anyone actually do well out of it?

We spoke to:

A single working person

A student

A carer

A small business owner

A married working person

A separated person with children

A pensioner

An unemployed person

Don Roche is 25 years old, single and working in the private sector. He wants to see the government cut public spending, and is concerned about the impact of the household charge and the VAT increase.

I’m a private sector worker, so the only thing that really affects me is taxes. I don’t really receive services from the State. I resent paying taxes. I’m from the northside of Dublin so you can’t rely on the gardaí. As far as I’m concerned the police don’t exist. I’m looking at private healthcare costs, they’re far cheaper than what I pay for public healthcare through taxes. I don’t drink, so I don’t think I should be paying for people getting drunk and getting into fights and going into A&E. I would have no faith in the system. I’m tired of contacting politicians about how to upgrade security in my area, and not getting any response.

But there are billions you could cut without hitting health and education. The first things I would cut would be the arts and agriculture. The VAT increase would be negative, because that’s increasing my costs to buy things. And if businesses aren’t making a profit, then those businesses are going to close down, which means I have fewer private services around me. And more bailing out of the banks is bad, because increasing the money supply increases inflation, and that reduces my savings.

The only charges I do like bringing in would be water charges. I’m not the kind of person who wastes water, so I don’t see why I should be paying for other people who have baths and water fights. I’m the kind of guy who pours the water into a cup before pouring it into the kettle. Why waste water? If we do, it will only get more expensive down the line.

The household charge would also affect me. It doesn’t make sense. Why are you charging me to live?

Aoife is from Louth and is a first-year journalism student at DCU. She’s particularly worried about cuts to student grants and the potential reintroduction of third-level fees.

I’m a DCU Access Programme student, which means I have a scholarship for free accommodation, but I’m not from a disadvantaged background. My father had to close his shop a couple of years ago and works part-time now, and my mother doesn’t work. My brother is in 2nd year of secondary school.

There’s no way I could afford to travel up and down to college even though I have the full non-adjacent maintenance grant. It has to cover books, equipment, and pay for transport and food. I also get a bursary from Louth County Council. I had to get a teacher’s reference to apply and then do an interview with the council explaining my passion for the course I’d applied for and what it would mean if I didn’t get the bursary. Without their support and the grant, I wouldn’t be able to go to college.

I’m really worried about the Budget because if the grant is reduced any more, I’ll have to cut down on a lot of things. If the fee is going to be scrapped over the next couple of years and if fees are introduced, I’d have no other option than to drop out. It’s not that I completely agree with free education, I know it’s not viable, but the government should prioritise education because it’s an investment.

I have friends in the same course and a lot of them miss lectures because of working to cover their college costs, but attending the classes is compulsory for passing.

I would rather drop out of college than get a loan. I don’t want to leave college with a pile of debt in front of me – I’d have to stay in the country and pay off the debt but would rather be free to take up a good job abroad if necessary.

Ann Hughes lives in Tullamore where she is a full-time carer for her daughter Debbie. Ann’s big fear for the Budget is that the government will cut Carer’s Allowance, upon which she relies.

I hope to God they don’t touch the Carer’s Allowance. There’s no way I could budget without it, no matter how tight I am. Debbie is autistic with an intellectual disability and has scoliosis in her back. She’s 32, but she’s basically a child.  She’s on disability benefits so I’m hoping they won’t be touched.

There’s nothing plush about us. We live in a small house, I have a car that’s about ten years old so I can help Debs get around, I just buy basic. That’s all I can do.

The VAT increase is worrying. When they put VAT up, prices sneak up everywhere. I do my shopping in Aldi because I found it was 2 or 3 times more expensive to do it in Dunnes or Tesco. People used to be snobby about shopping there but now everyone does it.  With Christmas coming up I’d rather just sleep and wake up when it’s all over but Debs believes in it and she’s very excited about it so I do it for her.

I do feel sorry for people who are ten times worse off than I am, especially where there are kids involved. Child Benefit doesn’t affect me but when I hear the government saying it’s ‘only’ a cut of €10 – well, that’s the difference between people coping and not coping.

Con Traas is a 43-year-old small business owner in south Tipperary. His company  grows and makes fruit products. He’s concerned that the VAT rise could cause problems for his business.

Our company grows fruit and makes fruit products like juices. We export a small amount to Germany and the US, but 95 per cent of our business is here in Ireland.

With the upcoming Budget, the planned VAT increase is throwing us. The juices we make are at 21 per cent at the moment so if that goes up to 23 per cent we’ll probably have to absorb the 2 per cent – and that could take out a big part of our profits. I would rather see some tax on higher incomes rather than VAT because I think that the VAT rise may send people over the border. It may not have the effect they expect.

Aside from VAT, anything that would raise the cost of living for employees would be a concern. We have eight employees on the farm and four in the juice company so if their costs of living are affected, that’s difficult. We know there won’t be income tax increases but anything that changes tax bands could be hard.

The government has been doing as well as it can in the circumstances. They lowered PRSI for low-paid employees when they came in which was very helpful from an employers point of view. Employees don’t notice any difference in their pay but it was good for employers.

John* is married with five young children and lives in Dublin. He knows that others are in worse situations but he is worried about a cut in children’s allowance and an introduction of a road tax.

To say I’m worried about the budget is an overstatement. I know we’ll be hit hard enough by it, but it always seems that others have it worse. We’ve been holding our breath for the past two years waiting for things to improve but we’ve become resigned to the fact that it won’t. Not for five years… ten years – who knows?

As a father of five young boys and the sole income earner, the burden is starting to ware. I’ve worked for myself for the past 11 years, and have set up several businesses in that time, so I’m used to making things happen …but it’s really hard these days.

The cut in children’s allowance makes a real difference. We use all of it, not for savings but for our children. Road tax similarly affects us. While we have an old 3 litre eight-seater Land Cruiser and we need it just to get the family around. Like a bus, road tax should reflect the number of users of a vehicle rather than the engine size. Household tax, water tax? Expected, but ridiculous.

I’m a contributor to the economy so, ironically, for me there is no holiday pay, no sick leave, no guaranteed pension and yes, you can be fired and have no work – and there’s no dole. It galls to see un-fireable civil servants with an attitude that the world – i.e. people like me, owe them a living and pension.Why? Those who abuse the dole are similarly odious. A one-way plane ticket would be better.

In business you value sales people because they make business happen. You don’t pay them less and give them no benefits. Hopefully, this budget will have a similar attitude to the Irish SME – the engine of the economy.

*person wished to remain anonymous

Robin Ann Richardson, 47, is a separated mother-of-four who lives with her children, aged 16, 14 and two 10-year-olds, in Kinvarra, Co Galway.  Originally from the US, she has lived in Ireland for ten years and works part-time as an administrative assistant.

I earn about €400 a week, less than €200 from child benefit and about €500 from my ex-husband but that’s dependent on his own work which has been extremely difficult since the housing collapse. You would think that would be grand but by the time the mortgage comes out, half of it’s gone and then there’s groceries, petrol, electricity bills, phones, and whatever the kids need.

I’m on a tracker mortgage which is a help but remortgaging several years ago basically kind of screwed me. The payments went up. Had I stayed as I was it would have been fine. I used to get Family Income Supplement but the threshold has changed now and I’m not eligible anymore. My medical card won’t be renewed because the threshold has changed. Child benefit has gone down so I’ve probably lost about €150 per month there. My salary is down as well. I haven’t got a raise in four years.

The household charge will be in addition to things like electricity which  has already gone up. If it goes up to 23 per cent that will be spread across any purchase you make. Petrol is going up, motor tax and there’s even talk of cutting child benefit.

I have this overall feeling of dread that I am not going to be able to make it work. My income is going down and my expenses are going up. I’ve nothing in savings and my car is 13-years-old. The 16-year-old is bright and I want her to go to college but I haven’t the faintest idea how we’re going to afford it in 18 months time.

Maureen Heffernan is an 88-year-old pensioner who lives in Cork. She is a widow and has five grown-up children who each have children of their own. She recognises the seriousness of the current situation and believes that everyone has to do their bit to try and get the country back on its feet.

I think that everyone needs to do their bit with the Budget. When they took the Christmas bonus from the pensioners, it was a bit of a disappointment and it is hardly likely they will give it back to us again. I hope they don’t target free travel for pensioners as it is important to us.

I don’t think in my category of pensioners that they will surprise us a whole lot, because they can’t afford to after the hubbub around the medical cards. I will be looking at the Budget on television next week – it is interesting anyway to see what they are going to do and what they can do more than anything else.

I feel they are starting off from a low base anyway of not having any money. Last Budget when we had Brian Lenihan, they knew – they thought – they had a lot more money than they have this year. It will be interesting to see what they can do.

They can’t take more from people who have small children but people like me with a pension, often we have our mortgages paid and our expenditure and commitments are less.

I would worry about pensioners’ fuel budgets. I know myself, I find it much colder each year and fuel is very important.They can’t take the fuel allowance off us.

With regard to the water charges, I use an awful lot of water and I would be conscious now that I have wasted water without even realising it – and I live on my own. Definitely pensioners would have to be more careful about it but I think a charge is no harm when you think of how we took everything for granted, we thought there was no end to this prosperity, so now it makes you think.

There is no comparison in terms of in the past, very few people were in the higher category and they were more or less landed gentry. People of the same background before all had the same income and the same expenditure.

Something must be done. I think anyone who has a little bit of money left over from their pension is doing well. I do think that the issue of people who have large salaries and are also drawing children’s allowance needs to be focused on.

Glyn Carragher lives in Galway and is unemployed. As a father-of-two, he is primarily concerned about cuts to child benefit and social services. He believes the government is making a fatal mistake by focusing on cuts instead of on job creation.

I’m unemployed and I have two kids, so I’m worried about any cutbacks in child benefit or any of the social welfare services.

I’m getting very tired now about all these comments about “lifestyle decisions” and “encouraging” people to go back to work – I don’t see a lot of action in the Budget to actually get people back to work. I feel it’s another budget of contraction: contraction stifles growth, and stifled growth stifles an economy.

There’s been a lot of expert comment on how to get an economy going again and, even going back to the crash in the States and the Great Depression, the way they got the economy going again is by spending. Unfortunately, you have to spend your way out of the Stone Age and that’s where we’re heading at the moment.

When you think about it – we put the guts of €65bn into the banks and, if an average job is €36,000, then that accounts for 361,000 jobs for five years.

I think this Budget is going to hit people in a variety of situations. It’s going to be particularly hard for people working at the moment because they’re at tipping point. The government is targeting people that are working so they can later target the unemployed as well.

From a financial point of view, if you’re reducing the lifestyle of people who are employed to levels where they are taking home less than the unemployed you’re going to have a lot of grumpy people around. And, fundamentally, you’re not actually going to change anything, which I think is the biggest problem we’ve got.

Besides that, I think the 2 per cent VAT rate is suicidal – everything has VAT on it, overheads are going to cost more. So I see it as a very destructive Budget. I don’t think there’s anything encouraging in it – it’s not something that will give people any kind of hope.

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