This is the text of my speech delivered at Campaign for Labour Policies ‘Post Budget 2013’ meeting in Liberty Hall, on Saturday 8 December 2012.
“While we are here today to discuss Budget 2013, we are really discussing what Labour can achieve in Government. To be able to say with confidence that Labour has a role in Government, other than being effective administrators, the party has to bring about real reform.
While Budget 2013 involves cuts for high earners and tax on wealth. The budget was not fair or equal, and has disproportionately affected the lower paid, and has disproportionately affected women’s income through the tax on maternity benefit, the reduction in child benefit, reduction in respite and back to school allowances. These cuts may seem like ‘small change’ to people on very high incomes, who make these budget decisions, but will make life harder on a week to week basis for women, carers and those with young families. It is only when you are living under these income constraints can you understand how difficult this is.
I have to ask the question why are the Government unwilling to take €7 a week from those with salaries over €100,000 through the USC, but are very willing to take the same amount from carers? The unfairness behind this example is striking.
But another worrying trend is emerging – where women are allowed to bear the brunt of cutbacks. I hope our government are not taking lessons from the UK. In the UK new analysis has shown that 81 per cent of the key additional tax and benefit changes announced in the UK budget will come from women.
While single parents and older women were always the most in danger of living in poverty, this is a new trend where working women are disproportionately targeted. We need equality budgeting.
Fair Taxation movement
There is a consensus growing across the EU that we need to adopt an EU wide strategy of fair taxation, looking to close opportunities for Multinational Companies to avoid tax. Labour should not take a reactionary stance to this movement. It’s really disappointing that the Government has not introduced a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) that would allow a citizen’s dividend, or solidarity tax, on financial trading.
Reform of Government and decision making
But we will never change and never improve the culture of special treatment and privilege for elites unless we change how we govern our state and how we make decisions. These elites are found in the public service and in the private sector and enjoy special protection for their pensions and wealth. To start to break down this lack of solidarity in Irish society, the process of forming government and how we govern needs to change.
The party’s experience on voting to go into government is an example. Gathering everyone into a packed hall with only a few hours to absorb a programme for government, with the assembled media pack baying outside is not a recipe for good decision making. The members are asked to support TDs who want to be Ministers; the issue of loyalty is used as emotional blackmail. Then when the lucky TDs get their wish and enter government, some becoming Ministers, the majority are left as backbenchers – little more than voting fodder having to defend policy that they had no influence in forming.
We need reform, or else we will continue to face unequal and unfair policies – a starting point could be by looking at the committee system in the European Parliament. That allows every MEP to become involved and shape policy.
The secretive, closed budget making system is also not fit for purpose, with TDs and Senators expected to defend a budget with only a few hours’ notice on the content and on the figures. We need long term budgeting that is agreed in open session through a committee system that allows the full involvement of elected representatives and public scrutiny.
What I am saying here can be achieved, but would require a change in mind set, a strong commitment to the need for change and a willingness to go out and explain the need for these changes to the public.
Why is Labour in government?
The Labour Party received a strong mandate from voters to enter government in Feburary 2011, but the question being asked now is why is Labour in government? The Party has also now reached the point where the excuse that ‘things would be much worse with-out us’ is not a credible excuse for lack of real identifiable party policy in Government. We urgently need to be able to say that things are better because we are in Government. People need to know why they should vote for Labour again, what makes us different to the other parties. At the moment the public do not know what Labour stands for.”
Bronwen Maher – 8 December 2012