Opinion: Budget 2024 prioritises the middle class over struggling workers

Finance Minister Michael McGrath and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe
Finance Minister Michael McGrath and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. Image: X - Michael McGrath

The Government has shown they know what problems need to be fixed, they’re just not willing to address them.

Budget 2024 was released in full this week, although it contained few surprises as most of its content had been leaked over the last few months. Many of the measures being brought in by the Government allude to the fact that they recognise the various problems facing the most vulnerable members of society, while showing a reluctance to introduce any substantial solutions to fix them.

This has been an annual occurrence since Fine Gael came to power in 2011, with the centre-right party using the same reasoning to explain their budgetary decisions every year. With Budget 2024, the party will argue that there’s simply not enough money to fix everything, which, of course, is the truth. But it’s equally true that significantly more could be done if the Government was proactive enough to make it happen. These insufficient measures cannot be completely blamed on lack of funds when there is also a lack of political will.

The Irish economy is in a strong position, the state is not strapped for cash. The Government has acknowledged this and decided to use part of the surplus for the Future Ireland Fund – a rainy-day fund in all but name. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are choosing to put money away for an unspecified purpose as more families are pushed into homelessness every year and our health service collapses.

Ministers Michael McGrath and Paschal Donohue have put additional funding into the state’s Housing for All scheme, bringing the total figure to just shy of €2 billion. As they bring in more tax cuts to keep landlords happy, they’re throwing tax payer money into a system that has proven to be unsuccessful. Homelessness has reached record high levels month-after-month this year, despite the programme being implemented. This can either be attributed to the stubbornness of a complacent Government who have been in power for too long, or a coalition that is deliberately favouring those who control the housing market, rather than those at its mercy.

Fianna Fáil Councillor for Limerick, Bridie Collins, said that Housing for All needs time to work because of the sheer volume of homes that need to be built.

She told Limerick Voice: “Housing for All is progressing slowly, but the measures are working. The number of purchases is going up. Nothing was built for ten years, it’s not going to be fixed overnight.”

However, Limerick Social Democrats Councillor, Elisa O’Donovan, believes that continuing funding the scheme is “throwing money at a broken system.”

Speaking on Budget 2024, she said: “I think that’s very evident from the representations I get daily as a local Councillor and this government are in absolute denial about the severity of the housing crisis across all sectors of society. Just 323 affordable purchase homes were delivered last year when 4100 were promised.”

Budget 2024 has allocated €22.5 billion for health, despite the fact that Ireland already spends more per capita on healthcare than the majority of EU countries. Logic would imply that if our health system worsens despite constant additional funding, the problem lies in the system itself. Our healthcare system needs a total overhaul that will put the needs of the entire country first, not a system that swallows money with little to no improvement.

Cllr Collins agreed that pumping more money into the current health system isn’t the solution, saying: “I don’t think the issue with the HSE is the budget. Money is being thrown at the HSE, money is not the issue.

“The HSE staff are incredibly hard working, and they’re certainly not to blame here. I’m not sure if it’s a recruitment issue, a HR issue or something else, but I don’t think the budget can be used to solve what’s going on.”

Cllr O’Donovan believes that the full implementation of Sláintecare, a universal healthcare system originally tabled by her party, is the only solution to the crisis.

She told Limerick Voice: “We have excellent policies that if implemented would transform HSE services. However, these are often not funded or implemented.”

These funding increases in key areas show that the coalition recognises the failing sectors of the state, but they show no effort to get to the bottom of why they’re in disrepute. Budget 2024 confirms what we already knew, this Government isn’t oblivious to the problems the country is facing, they’re just not willing to change their approach on how to fix it.

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