16 Oct 2013

Ireland breathes ‘sigh of relief’ after 2014 budget

Ireland’s seventh austerity budget set out 2.5bn euros of cuts and taxes, including cuts to benefits for under 25s. But our Austerity Kid in Dublin says many are just relieved it wasn’t worse.

Ireland budget hits youth - but Austerity Kid says it could have been worse (Getty)

It is budget time again in Ireland, and this was one I really feared, writes Barry Lalor.

I don’t think I have ever been so worried about it before because in the past, what was at stake wouldn’t overly affect me.

Six years ago I sat in a plush office building, with a good job and monthly payments that allowed a good lifestyle and too many social excursions. I never thought I would be worrying about student grants, fees and trivial items like weekly groceries. I, like many of my peers, was self indulgent – and looking back, some might say, narcissistic.

My friends are looking each and every day but if a job doesn’t exist, it’s hard to find.

I decided to go to university last year, when work started to dry up in the midst of Ireland’s recession. So this year’s budget was different. I feared for the education grant especially. Six previous budgets had hit hard and what I once had now seems like it was part of a dream.

So I watched intently on Tuesday. But I came away pleased about some things: the university fees had increased, which was always a concern, but grants for those on the Back to Education scheme remain unaffected.

‘Lazy youth’

Barry Lalor

On the other hand, those my age unfortunate enough to be signing on have taken a bit too much of a hit though. Newly unemployed under-25s will see their benefits cut to 100 euros a week.

I understand the point ministers are making about re-education but some people are not in the frame of mind or are in totally different scenarios and this might not be an option. Making people jump through hoops and give away every detail about themselves for monetary assistance (which may never come, as in my case) does not appeal.

Looking harder for a job is another option. But this idea of the “lazy youth” really bugs me. We are looking hard. My friends are looking each and every day but if a job doesn’t exist, it’s hard to find.

The budget was a mixed bag: the government also hiked up the price of cigarettes and alcohol – not with the health of the nation in mind, but the revenue it creates. But a person paying 9.50 euros today for a packet of smokes won’t be off put by paying 9.60, in my opinion.

Older people have been hit badly too: thanks for all you’ve done for the country, but we have to take a bit more. More pensioners are set to lose their medical card, and telephone allowance for example.

Reckless spending helped get us into this mess, but it seems like reckless savings are as bad: the DIRT tax (Ireland’s deposit interest retention tax on savings) has increased to 41 per cent. This realistically means that what you save today will be worth less next year when you take account of inflation and minimal saving interest rates.

Turning a corner?

Angela Merkel and the eurozone have imposed strict measures on Ireland (Reuters)

On Tuesday, they took the lower end of the scale they set. This is Ireland’s final austerity budget, as the country prepares to leave the international bailout programme, and it’s not as bad as we feared.

But where is the real job stimulus? Tax breaks for entrepreneurs for two years? How many start-up businesses make huge profits in the first two years anyway? And who is lending to these people for start up capital?

In my opinion young people don’t mind having to re-educate, but what we want is jobs – simple as that. Re-opening the Garda (police) college will be a start, but more needs to be done.

At least unemployment figures should be down next year. With people surely now even more likely to look at emigration, there might not be many young people around to survive on the lower dole amount.

So overall the eurocrats will be happy: Irish people have been again hit with cuts and tax hikes. But if the budget proves anything, it shows just how hard the last few budgets were. When you have a budget like today and yet people waking up the next day breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t worse, it really hammers home how much austerity we have already suffered.

Dare I say we might actually be turning a corner?

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