If there was a quote from yesterday’s cost-of-living press conference by the Government that should live in the memory, it should really be “Let the workers eat cake”.
Let be absolutely clear for the avoidance of doubt that no member of the Government, to my knowledge, has actually spoken the words I sort of attribute to them there. But as we all learn from a young age, some words are spoken, and some are conveyed very clearly by actions. So let us look then at the “cost of living measures” announced by Government yesterday:
A ONCE-OFF €100 child benefit payment and a €200 lump sum for social welfare recipients will be paid out as part of the cost-of-living measures agreed by the Cabinet today.
Similar to the Christmas bonus payment, pensioners, carers, those on disability and working family payments, lone parents, and those on the widow’s pension will receive the €200 payment in April.
In addition, those in receipt of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance will receive €100 extra.
It was also announced that the State exam fees – for the Junior and Leaving Certificate – are again being waived. These fees were also waived last year.
The waiver means that a usual fee of €116 for the Leaving Cert exams and €109 for the Junior Cert exams will not have to be paid by students.
Reduced charges will apply to school transport of €50 per pupil at primary level, €75 per pupil at post-primary level, with a cap per family of €125.
To be fair to the Government, I write here often that politics is about choosing how to allocate scarce resources amongst competing groups: If there was limitless money, then there would be no need for politics at all. We could have everything all the time. The entire reason we have politicians in the first place is because we do not have limitless money, and we as a country need to decide how to spend the money we do have.
That’s the reason we have politics. The reason we have democracy, on the other hand, is that the public is entitled to disagree with how those in government spend the money available to them, and vote them out of office if they disagree, or feel hard done by.
And let me tell you, as a middle class PAYE worker who, in the infamous words of Leo Varadkar, gets up early in the morning, I feel pretty gosh-darn hard done by.
To sum up the Government’s approach, it might be fair to say that if you are someone who is a net recipient of Government money, then you did all right yesterday. But if you are someone who pays more into the pot than you take out, then you got basically nothing. A delay in a tax increase on fuel, and the waiver of exam fees if you happen to have kids of that age, and a hundred quid, again, if you happen to have children. If you don’t happen to have children, then you got essentially nothing.
This strikes me as, aside from being unfair, a political error. To the Government’s credit, their winter electricity credits had the helpful impact of helping people right across Irish society manage their electricity bills at a time of heightened cost. If you pay into the system, well, you got something back out of it in a time of need. That does help build that “solidarity” thing that our friends on the left never shut up about.
In this instance, though, what do you get? Nada, is the answer. And the very people who get nada are also the people who, traditionally, tend to vote for FF and FG. If you’re leaving the door open to Sinn Fein to claim that they’d have done more for the working man and woman, who are you left with, exactly? Pensioners? RTE employees? (I jest, RTE employees vote Labour).
There’s also the basic principle that we should consider working a basic social good. If you are a person in employment, paying taxes, then you are not only helping yourself but society. A sensible Government would make it clear how much these people are valued. Instead, the message seems to be that they are more eager to help those who – by choice or circumstances – do not work.
It all comes back, I think, to the biggest problem with this Government: They don’t actually know who it is that they are for.
For example, these supports are clearly targeted at “working class communities”, but the implication of them is that people in working class communities do not work. Further, these are the same communities bearing the brunt of the immigration crisis, and the crime crisis, and the housing crisis. They are unlikely, I think, to be bought off with a 200 quid bonus for those out of work. Meanwhile, the middle class communities much less opposed to the Government on things like housing and health and crime and immigration get nothing of note. They create one potential political problem, while not even solving another.
In any case, well done to those who got something from the state, in this time of hardship. Nobody would or should begrudge it. But it’s a cost of living programme for some. And a very far step from “Ireland for All”.