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Fuel Poverty-Paddy Healy Replies to Minister Rabitte

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Department of Social Protection Website    Minister Joan Burton TD

“regrettably there is an ongoing necessity to achieve savings due to our commitments with the IMF/EU/ECB Troika.”

“The Government today approved changes to the Fuel Allowance and Household Benefits schemes that will bring annual savings of €65 million.  Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, said: “While we want to protect the basic social welfare payments which have very positive economic and social effects, regrettably there is an ongoing necessity to achieve savings due to our commitments with the IMF/EU/ECB Troika.  The savings arising from this measure were provided for last December in Budget 2011 but were not specified or announced by the Government at that time.”

From September 2011 the Fuel Allowance is to be standardised at €20 per week, the rate currently received by the majority of customers, with no additional allowance for living in a smokeless area.  The cost of the Telephone Allowance will be reduced following negotiations with Eircom which will ensure that customers receive €26.86 of value on their bills, at a cost to the State of €22.22 per month.  The number of free units provided under the Electricity and Gas Allowance will be reduced to the 2007 level: this reduction may be offset to some extent if customers switch to other companies in search of better deals.  These three measures will generate savings of €17 million in 2011 and €65 million annually.

Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, said: “Assistance with the cost of fuel, electricity, gas and telephone bills has always been an important element of social welfare provision and will continue. My Department will spend over €530 million, over half a billion euros, in 2011 on these schemes which benefit over 630,000 people. Help will also continue to be available for vulnerable people with special or additional heating needs through the Heating Supplement and Exceptional Needs Payment Scheme under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme.”

 

Below is an unedited version of my letter published in Irish Times to-day Dec 28
Paddy Healy 086-4183732
Dear Editor,
Minister Rabitte (Irish Times letters Dec 27) seeks to contradict the piece by Fintan O’Toole on fuel poverty (Irish Times December 20)
The Labour- Fine Gael government has introduced two cuts in fuel allowances through Minister for Social protection, Joan Burton, since coming to power. From September, the smokeless fuel allowance was abolished and the annual allowance of free units was reduced from 2400 to 1800. In Budget 2012, the heating period was reduced by 6 weeks. Fuel allowance is a means tested payment. Only the poor are entitled to this benefit.
The piece of research to which Minister Rabitte and Fintan O’Toole refer is“Fuel Poverty, Older People and Cold Weather: An all-island analysis”, (at http://www.publichealth.ie). It found that the excess winter death rate in the Republic for the winter of 2006/7 was 1,281. Of these, 1,216 were aged over-65. The majority died of cardiovascular and respiratory illness – cold-related conditions. The fuel allowance in the year in question was only fractionally less than that now available and fuel prices are now much higher.
During the new year, 2012, the hundredth anniversary of the proposal by Connolly and Larkin to the Irish TUC meeting in Clonmel that a Labour Party should be founded will occur. It is scarcely credible that a party which claims Connolly as founder should be cutting fuel allowances to the poor. This is all the more so as the Labour Party, just over a year ago when in opposition, introduced a private members motion in Dáil Éireann (October 12, 2010) calling on the government to increase fuel allowances!
Fintan O’Toole was right to refer to refer to “the unacceptable reality that current policies are making Ireland a cold house for basic decency.”
Yours sincerely,
Paddy Healy

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F O’Toole on Minister Rabitte and Fuel Poverty

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

How Low can they GO?
In the recent Budget the period for which the poor and the old receive free gas and electricity units was reduced by six weeks. During the warmer summer months, Minister for “Social Protection”, Joan Burton(LabourParty Deputy Leader) announced cuts to the home benefits package for pensioners and social welfare beneficiaries. The allocations of electricity units and gas units so important for home heating were reduced by between 20% and 25% and the smokeless fuel allowance payable in Dublin was abolished. These are means tested payments which means that they are only paid to people at risk. AGE ACTION IRELAND has stated “Research on fuel poverty and older people by the Dublin Institute of Technology and the Institute of Public Health shows that during the winter of 2006/7 there were 1,281 excess winter deaths*. Of these, the vast majority were older people (1,216 were aged over-65).
The piece of research referred to by Age Action was publicly launched last week by Minister Rabitte (Labour Party) In Irish Times 20/12/2011, columnist Fintan O’Toole analyses Minister Rabitte’s launching address-Paddy Healy
RABITTE OUT IN THE COLD ON ELDERLY FUEL CUTS
Irish Times Tue, Dec 20, 2011
Pat Rabbitte is wrong that the fuel crisis is not as bad as reported. In fact, it is likely to be much worse, writes FINTAN O’TOOLE
OSCAR WILDE said he could resist everything except temptation. We, his compatriots, can imagine everything except reality. Collectively, we find it hard to believe what we see around us.
One of the things that’s easiest to spot in public spaces is old people sheltering from the cold. You see them in Ikea, sitting in the restaurant half the day over cheap cups of tea. You see them in shopping centres, where benches are being removed, not to stop teenagers from congregating, but to prevent the clusters of elderly heat-seekers. You see them in public libraries. You even see them on trains, riding up and down the lines with their free travel passes. And these, of course, are the luckier ones, the ones who are mobile and healthy enough to be able to get out of the house. But seeing is not believing.
Last week, there was a strange vignette of official incredulity. Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte launched a report by the Institute of Public Health on fuel poverty among the elderly. It is a very serious, scholarly piece of work, conducted on an all-island basis by a team of researchers from the Republic, Northern Ireland and Britain, led by Prof Patrick Goodman of Dublin Institute of Technology.
One of its findings is that 51.1 per cent of older people surveyed said they “went without necessities such as food and clothing in order to pay for heat over the winter period”.
This is not a comfortable finding for a Minister in the week after a budget that has cut the fuel allowance period by six weeks. How did Pat Rabbitte deal with it? By claiming it did not exist. According to The Irish Times report of the launch, “he said the claim that half of older people were forgoing essentials to heat their home had been published in a press release but was not in the report. He added that no politician or social worker would believe that it was true.”
In fact, the finding appears twice in the report: on page 12 and on page 60. When this was pointed out to the Minister, he stood by his position that it could not be so, pointing out that the survey was “not a representative sample of older people”.
This is true, but probably not in the sense that Rabbitte meant. No one claims the survey is representative, in the sense that, for example, an opinion poll using weighted demographical sampling might be. Its aim is somewhat different: not to tick boxes, but to get a good sense of the actual experience of older people during last winter.
The sampling method, using bodies such as Age Action, Energy Action, the Rural Transport Network and Dublin City Council’s sheltered housing liaison officers to distribute the surveys, probably does distort the results somewhat. But – and here’s the real point – it distorts them by understating the problem. People who are isolated from networks and services were excluded. People who have problems with literacy or blindness couldn’t complete the written survey. Such people are more, not less, likely to suffer from deprivation.
There is a further factor at work: the “mustn’t grumble” ethic of the elderly. Older people don’t like to complain. In the same survey, 90 per cent of the respondents listed their health status as fair to very good, even though 75 per cent had a long-term illness. They are an almost comically stoical bunch.
One respondent with both Parkinson’s disease and arthritis gave her health status as “good” and explained that “as long as I am mobile and above ground I tend not to panic or bitch”.
How probable is it that these same people are wildly exaggerating when they say they sacrifice food or clothing for heat?
And yet, the official view from the Minister is that it simply could not be true that anything like half of older people are doing without other necessities in order to heat their homes. “No politician or social worker would believe that it was true.”
That no politician, moving from heated offices to heated cars, would believe it is understandable. But I’m not sure the incredulity would extend to anyone who works with Age Action, Friends of the Elderly, St Vincent de Paul or social services. The only sense in which it is not “true” is that its reality is impermissibly awkward.
This vignette is eloquent in its own way as an example of the cognitive dissonance of officialdom. Cognitive dissonance is the condition that affects people when their belief system comes into conflict with reality. They close the gap, not by altering their belief systems, but by redefining reality.
In this case, Pat Rabbitte’s belief system (social justice) is in radical conflict with most of what he’s doing in Government. So he’s redefining reality: it is simply not possible that the Government is cutting fuel allowances for people who are already suffering deprivation in order to stay warm.
Otherwise, he would have to face the unacceptable reality that current policies are making Ireland a cold house for basic decency.
© 2011 The Irish Times

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ULA Proposal to Tax the Assets and Incomes of the Super-Rich

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

As the Richer get Richer 17 Billion Must be Taken from Super-Rich to Avoid Austerity!
A statement from the Central Statistics Office on Wednesday last showed that the wealthiest top 20% had 5.5 times more income than the poorest 20% in 2010 and this has grown from 4.3 times in 2009. Net Financial Assets(shares etc) which are mainly the preserve of the rich have increase by 45 billion since 2008 and are now above pre-crash (2007) levels. These are facts issued by the state. The rich are,in fact,getting richer as the poor get poorer! ULA is demanding that, in the Budget, 10 billion be taken from the Assets of the top 5% of wealth holders, 5 billion be taken from the incomes of the top 5% of income earners and that measures be introduced to take 2 billion off tax exiles.
This will avoid further cuts and extra taxes on low and middle income people and can be used to reverse the imposition of the Universal Social Charge and cuts in social welfare, health and education and to allow for an ambitious state job creation programme
Explanatory Document on Taxation
10 Billion in Wealth Tax on the Top 5% of Wealth Holders, 5 Billion in Income Tax from Top 5% of Incomes, 2 Billion from Tax Exiles

Personal Assets Tax
There is currently no annually recurring tax on wealth or assets in Ireland. Such a tax was imposed by Minister for Finance Ritchie Ryan during the 1973-1977 Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government. It was subsequently abolished by the succeeding Fianna Fail Government. Assets taxes still exist in a number of countries including France, Norway, Switzerland and in a number of states of the USA. Many were abolished in other countries under the influence of neo-liberal Thatcher-Reagan economic ideology which has brought the world to the current economic crisis.
Recent statistics from the CSO show that in 2010 the financial assets of Irish people (not businesses) were as follows:
CSO Nov 2011 Personal Financial Assets (millions)
(Financial wealth below is made up of cash, shares, pension and insurance funds (net equity) and business assets/liabilities of self-employed/sole traders. Land, housing and non-financial personal property (e.g. yachts, art, etc.) are not included. Gross financial wealth refers to total financial assets; Net financial wealth refers to gross financial wealth minus liabilities -almost all liabilities refer to loans-CSO). (loans include mortgage loans and credit card debt-PH)

Total Financial Assets Total Financial liabilities Net Financial Assets

2007 310,711 199,036 111,675
2008 281,650 209,774 71,876
2009 304,885 206,620 98,264
2010 311,372 194,219 117,153

These figures show that net personal financial assets of have increased by 45 billion since the low point of 2008. Total and net financial assets are now above 2007 level, that is before the crash. The rich are Getting Richer while the Poor are Getting Poorer http://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/releasespublications/documents/economy/2010/isanonfinfin2010.pdf

The net figure underestimates the assets of the wealthy as a far higher proportion of the liabilities including mortgage and credit card debt are held by those with no asset other than the principal private residence which is not included in the gross figure.

Recently (Nov 2011) Credit Suisse, the Swiss finance house, has published an analysis of wealth distribution in Ireland.
It shows that the top 1% of the Irish population hold 28.1% of all wealth and the top 5% hold 46.85 of all wealth.
Credit Suisse estimates that financial assets make up 47 percent of total assets (Table 2-4 on page 71 in Credit Suisse Global Assets Report). This means that there is €311 billion in financial assets and €351 billion in non-financial assets for a total of €662 billion (using latest CSO data). After financial liabilities of €194 billion, total net wealth is €468 billion.
As 28.1% of net wealth is held by the top 1%, they hold 131.5 billion of total net wealth.
As 46.85% of net wealth is held by the top 5%, they hold 219.3 billion of total net wealth
These are a significant underestimations as total liabilities of households which have been deducted lean proportionally most heavily on the less wealthy households.
The Revenue Commissioners have no data on the assets of specific individuals as assets tax was abolished over 30 years ago. Such a register should be established by law immediately so that there is complete transparency in relation to the ownership of wealth. The overall data above was deduced by the Central Statistics Office from other data.
ULA has set a target of collecting 10 billion per year in assets tax from the top 5% until the fiscal deficit is removed and 5 billion annually thereafter.
As these assets are not contingent on receipt of income or income changes, ULA proposes that the deadline for payment be March 1, 2012. This would facilitate early implementation of our job creation programme
The 10 billion in revenue from assets tax is available for purposes such as job creation, elimination of USC, restoration of cuts in welfare etc
It is a matter for government which has Department of Finance , Revenue Commissioners, Central Statistics Office etc at its disposal to devise legislation to reach the target revenue of 10 billion from the top 5 % and that, in particular that the homes , farms and pension funds of those outside the top 5% be exempt.
The measure proposed is a tax on personal assets only not on the assets of businesses
If the target revenue of 10 Billion is not reached by March 1, further measures should be introduced.

Income Tax
There was an increase in income inequality between 2009 and 2010 as shown by the quintile share ratio. The ratio showed that the average income of those in the highest income quintile was 5.5 times that of those in the lowest income quintile. The ratio was 4.3 one year earlier. CSO Press Release Nov 30,2011
There can be little doubt that the imposition of an assets tax would increase the yield from income tax. The contrast between large assets and low declared incomes in the non-PAYE sector would become clear.
The most recently published official statistics are for 2009
The top 5% of earners had a total income of 18 billion Euro in 2009 (22.6% of all income) and paid only 4.9 billion in income tax. If tax reliefs and capital allowances claimed are taken into account, their Gross Income, which is their actual income, is 19.8 billion. (Revenue Commissioners, Statistical Report, Table ISD1)
Deductions from that table, show the top 5% of units have 24% of all income and pay 46% of all income tax. Notwithstanding right wing propaganda, this is to be expected as they have a totally disproportionate share of discretionary income. The imposition of the USC and increased taxation of the lower paid will have significantly reduced the 46% figure in 2010. They only paid 25% of their own total income in tax in 2009
Tax reliefs which proportionally favour the rich are very high in Ireland at 20.2% of total tax revenue as against 8.5% in Germany, 5.1% in the Netherlands (OECD, Commission on Taxation)
Official figures show that those individuals as opposed to couples in receipt of incomes over 100,000 Euro only paid 31.4% of all income tax in 2008 (Irish Times Com Keena 20/3/2009). Figures for 2009 indicate little change in this regard.
Due to heavy impositions on those in receipt of low incomes in more recent budgets this percentage has probably decreased and 10,677 units (0.5% of earners) earned 6.01billion in 2009 or 7.33%% of all income. They paid c (Revenue Commissioners Statistical Report 2010) These very rich earned on average 563,000 Euro each. There is no significant change expected to these figures expected in 2010. It can reasonably be assumed that such people avail of considerable tax breaks and have the advice of tax experts. This 0.5% of earners paid 1.783 billion in income tax in 2009 leaving them with an “after-tax” income of 4.27 billion or 400,000Euro each.
ULA proposes that the minimum effective tax rate on this group be adjusted to yield an additional 2.5 billion to the exchequer leaving them with after-tax income of 1.77 billion or 166,000 Euro each.
The next 0.5% of income recipients(9,933) just below the top group had a gross income of c. 2.3 billion and paid c. 608 million in tax. ULA proposes to take a further 0.5 billion off this group leaving them with 1.2 billion Euro or 121,000Euro each in after tax income
The ULA target is to generate 3 billion Euro from the top 1% of income earners.
Because of massive tax reliefs enjoyed by high earners the use of minimum effective tax rates is a sure means of extracting additional tax from high earners.
This would require a scale of minimum effective tax rates on all income ramping upwards from the current level of 30% as incomes exceed thresholds of 100,000, 150,000, 200,000,250,000 etc. The minimum effective rates may have to be as high as respectively 35%, 40%, 45% , 50% and 60% for those earning above 300,000. The current minimum effective tax rate only applies to those with income of over 125,000 Euro claiming tax relief in excess of 80,000 Euro! This restriction should be abolished.
There must be no increase in the effective tax rates of those with gross incomes below 100,000 Euro
The total increase in revenue due to the preceding measures is 13 billion
Increased Taxation of Very High Incomes
High incomes are very lightly taxed in Ireland and the burden of income taxation on low and middle incomes was hugely increased by the imposition of the Universal Social Charge and by reduction of personal tax credits and thresholds.
There are approximately 88,500 income recipients (4.1% of taxpayers) with incomes between 100,000 and 200,00 euro and these are outside the top 1% of income recipients discussed above. They have a total income of 11.6 billion and paid 2.57 billion in tax in 2009. ULA proposes to increase the income tax yield from this group by 2 billion, through a combination of minimum effective tax rates on all income and higher marginal tax rates on income above 100,000Euro, leaving them with 7 Billion Euro, an average 79,600 Euro each in after tax income . While retaining this revenue target, adjustments of taxation will be necessary within this group in order not to penalise tax payers with an adult dependent or couples who are jointly assessed for tax.
The deployment of minimum effective tax rates is designed to combat the loss of revenue due to tax reliefs enjoyed by the rich. Relief on pension contributions to provide pensions capped at 50,000 per annum per adult should be continued.

The cumulative revenue total raised by the above measures is now 15 billion Euro

Tax Exiles
The Domicile Levy introduced in Budget 2011 to address the problem of tax exiles has generated a paltry 1.5 million in revenue and is clearly totally inadequate.
It is reasonable to expect that citizens of Ireland who have income generated in Ireland and/or assets held in Ireland should pay tax to the Irish state. The United States expects its citizens resident abroad to pay US income tax when their earnings abroad exceed a certain threshold. Failure to do so attracts public disapproval. Irish tax exiles, on the other hand, are fawned on by politicians. Denis O’Brien was invited by Eamonn Gilmore to the Farmleigh conference at the behest of Fine Gael. Michael Smurfit was appointed honorary consul to Monaco by Charles Haughey and furnished with a diplomatic passport. The Labour Party leader is continuing Mr Smurfit in office.
The ULA proposes that the principles underlying US practice be applied to wealthy individuals living abroad.
We call on the Government to introduce measures in Budget 2012 to require by Law that Irish citizens resident abroad for tax purposes pay to the Irish exchequer annual amounts of tax as follows:
1 Assets Tax: An assets tax of 10% on net global personal assets in excess of 2 million Euro less the assets tax paid to the state in which the Irish citizen is resident.
2 Income Tax: A minimum effective income tax rate of 50% on annual global income in excess of 200,000 Euro, less the income tax paid to the state in which the Irish citizen is resident.
3Current Domicile Levy of €200,000 introduced in Budget 2010 to be increased to 500,000Euro per year. This levy should apply to all Irish-domiciled individuals who are Irish citizens to ensure that wealthy Irish domiciled individuals make a contribution to the State during these times of economic and fiscal difficulty. The Levy will apply to wealthy Irish-domiciled individuals with Irish located capital greater than €2 million, worldwide income in excess of €1million and an Irish income tax liability less than €500,000. Persons liable to the Levy will have to pay it regardless of where they live or where they are tax resident.

It is impossible to predict the revenue which would be generated by the above measures. However the deadline for paying the assets tax, domicile levy and preliminary income tax should be set at March 1, 2011. If the income generated falls below a projected 2 billion for the year as a whole, further changes should be made to remedy the short fall
Other measures are also open to the Minister in his budget such as drastically reducing the number of days the “exile” can stay in Ireland while retaining residence abroad for tax purposes.
ULA has set a minimum initial target of 2 billion Euro in revenue from the above 3 measures

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