Thursday, 29 November 2012

Making Equality Count—the Case for Budgetary Impact Assessments

Clara Fischer: Ireland’s next budget is only around the corner, and people all over the country are bracing themselves for what is set to be another harsh exercise in cuts and tax increases. While much of this will be presented in abstract terms – a few percentages increased here, a few numbers decreased there – the very real effects of Budget 2013 will be keenly felt, especially by those already marginalised within our society.

Given the government’s reluctance to equality-proof or gender-proof the budget, it is more than likely that Ireland will continue in the current trajectory toward increased inequality and poverty, thus exacerbating a situation that has been worsening since the beginning of the economic crisis. In 2010 alone, there was a 25% increase in inequality in Ireland, with the top 20% earning 5.5 times the income of the lowest 20%. The percentage of people in Ireland living in consistent poverty increased, as did the percentage of children at-risk of poverty, which stands at 19.5%. Just recently, it was established that one in ten people in Ireland experiences food poverty.

Those are harrowing statistics, especially in light of the fact that people at the higher end of the socio-economic spectrum increased their wealth by 8% in 2010. The research clearly shows that ‘burden-sharing’, ‘collective belt-tightening’, or whatever similar misnomer successive governments have used and continue to use as a means of justifying disproportionate hardship for those at the bottom, is simply that – empty rhetoric that is not based on fact. The truth is that, at present, the government simply doesn’t have the required information to devise, implement and review policies that might actually result in a more level spreading of the economic burden across different sections of society. Instead, we are seeing the continued,disproportionate targeting of lone parents, people with disabilities, and women, to name but a few, as impact analyses are not undertaken, data is not collected, and information is not made available.

While one could be uncharitable about the political motives behind this, it is important to note that other countries do things differently. In Scotland, for example, it is common practice to publish a draft budget in September, which can then be debated before being finalised in January. Importantly, the draft budget is published alongside an “Equality Statement”, which provides a full impact analysis by equality category (such as gender, age, disability, etc.), as well as by budget theme (e.g. “health and wellbeing”). The budget process itself is also significantly at variance with the Irish process, as an Equality Budget Advisory Group, made up of civil society and government actors, ensures that equality is fully integrated in economic policy-making and planning. The meeting minutes of this group are readily available on the Scottish Government’s website, as are the draft budget, and the attendant Equality Statement.

The Scottish approach is far more transparent, and affords equality a central role in economic policy-making, planning and review. There is no reason why such an approach could not be introduced in Ireland. Given the pressure the government currently finds itself under, especially with regard to economic policies being perceived as unjust and unfair, adoption of an approach more akin to the Scottish model would actually take some of the sting out of the debate. The government would be able to point toward impact assessments and research, and could show that its decisions are based on evidence and carefully planned examination of the circumstances of different sections of Irish society with a view to implementing the most equitable policies. Equality budgeting would also halt the increases in inequality and poverty we’re currently experiencing in Ireland, while satisfying citizens’ demands for economic justice and true ‘burden-sharing’.

For the last number of months, the Equality Budgeting Campaign has been working toward the introduction of such a more transparent and equitable approach to economic policy-making, and has successfully won the support of the Sinn Fein parliamentary party, and of Labour, Independent and ULA representatives. More pressure must be brought to bear, however, upon the powers-that-be if a substantial reform like this is to be made a reality. The urgency of doing so cannot be stressed enough, as the brunt of the economic crisis continues to be borne by those least able to do so. For anybody interested in pursuing equality budgeting with us, we invite you to contact us or to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or via our website. We also have a petition for the introduction of equality budgeting here. For further details on equality budgeting, see our information booklet here.

Dr. Clara Fischer holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy and is a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network. The network is part of a broad-based coalition of civil society organisations and concerned individuals seeking the introduction of equality budgeting in Ireland.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ireland – caught in the low corporate tax trap?

Daragh McCarthy and Aoife Ní Lochlainn: In the wake of the Public Accounts Committee in the UK interrogating a trio of multinational executives on the meagre sums of corporate tax paid by many trans-national companies, last Saturday’s episode of the Business on RTE featured a segment on the topic that closed with Feargal O’Rourke of PwC saying that he expected to see these companies pay “a fairer rate of tax” in the coming years. It appears that the pressure for reform is building.

The issue has garnered a significant amount of media attention over the past couple of months—from the storming of Google’s offices in Paris to the naming and shaming of Facebook, Starbucks and Apple in the UK press. Senior government officials in many EU countries are openly voicing their discontent with the increasingly aggressive tax dodging strategies employed by these corporations, and the European Commission is scheduled to discuss the international tax practices of multinational businesses on December 5th. It remains to be seen if this is simply bluster, or if there is a genuine will to devise a coordinated pan-national strategy to reduce tax avoidance.

A recent report by TASC, Tax Injustice: Following the Tax Trail highlighted how the Irish tax system is a key component of a subsidiary-based structure that drastically reduces the overall tax bill of transnational businesses. A friendly tax environment has been a central part of the effort to lure multinational corporations to Ireland. FDI of this nature has been at the core of successive governments’ industrial policy for over half a century, and this policy is generally regarded to have been successful.

Accommodating these companies has come at a substantial cost, however. Contributors to this site have noted the obsessive focus on FDI is likely to have hindered the development of indigenous firms. The contribution made by multinationals to the Irish exchequer has diminished considerably in recent years; currently it is down 2.5 per cent year-on-year. The recent spike in media attention heightens the risk of damage to the state’s reputation. This summer, the US Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations sought to establish Ireland’s role in “tax practices that range from egregious to dubious validity.

However, while much of the media focus of the past few weeks has been on the use of tax loopholes to decrease tax bills in European countries, it remains the case that these countries are still better equipped to address the consequences of such corporate behaviour than countries in the Global South. Tax avoidance by companies and individuals hampers the capacity of these states to develop their economies and pay for much needed public service.

According to Christian Aid, between 2005 and 2007, six Irish Aid programme countries lost nearly €82 million in tax revenue to EU or US – almost 17 per cent of total Irish Aid budget for the countries concerned. A recent report by the Tax Justice Network (TJN) claimed that since the 1970s, 139 low-to-middle income countries have lost a total of $7.3 to $9.3 trillion to tax dodging by the super rich. This vast sum is more than enough to cover the debts of these countries, whose aggregate gross external debts stood at $4.08 trillion in 2010.

The TASC report contains a number of recommendations for tackling tax injustice, including the introduction of country-by-country reporting. However, while increased transparency would help countries better understand the methods of tax avoidance, it will not in and of itself solve the problem and is unlikely to appease many of Ireland’s critics.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Default Option - Cancelling the Odious Debt

Tom McDonnell: We have seen again in the last few days that the troika are a not a monolith. They disagree quite fundamentally on many issues.

It is widely understood that the debt crisis professionals (the IMF) were overruled at an early stage by the debt crisis amateurs (ECB/European Commission). Greece was originally prevented from defaulting and then not allowed to default to a sufficient degree to restore its debt dynamics to a sustainable path. A second default is now certain within the next eighteen months.

According to Der Spiegel the inevitability of the second Greek default is well understood in Brussels and Berlin as indeed it must be to any competent analyst.

Ex-IMFer Ashoka Mody has an excellent piece in today's Irish Times making the case for defaults in the European periphery. Defaults are an entirely normal (even expected) thing when it is clear that debt levels have spun out of control.

Over at the Irish Independent Stephen Kinsella makes the case - articulated repeatedly on this blog and indeed on many other blogs - that the promissory note payment to the IBRC should not be paid on 31 March. I would echo Stephen's reference to this debt as 'odious'. The government failed to get a deal last year. Months of pleading have gotten them nowhere and the working group is missing in action. TASC's position is that the promissory notes should now be immediately suspended pending a full renegotiation. It is time to start rethinking the debt default option. Reducing the debt burden is an essential component of a Greek recovery and failure to strike an acceptable deal on the legacy bank debt will delay Ireland's recovery for years to come.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The importance of secondary benefits

Aoife Ní Lochlainn: Today, TASC appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection to discuss our proposals for Budget 2013.

In our pre-budget document Closing the Gap: TASC’s Proposals for a More Equitable Budget, we propose a ratio of tax measures to spending cuts of four to one. This includes no cuts in capital expenditure or social welfare payments. You can read our full proposals for tax and spending here

Any savings made in current expenditure must not be made through further cuts in social transfers of through cutting services which impact on vulnerable or low income groups.

Last year’s budget introduced a range of cuts in health and in social protection which targeted vulnerable or low income groups. In particular, the focus on the cutting of so-called ‘secondary’ or ‘non-core’ social protection payments, left many families significantly worse off.

Many secondary benefits are designed to reflect the fact that there are groups of people for whom accessing work is more difficult.

The barriers to meaningful work are both visible and invisible to those who do not face them. These groups have specific needs which must be addressed through the development of appropriate policies and supports.
One such group is lone parents. Lone parents often face challenges that other people of working age may not face or understand. The general lack of proper affordable childcare facilities impacts on most parents, but the negative impact is much more acute for lone parents. The vulnerable position of these families can be seen in the fact that according to EU SILC data for Ireland, in 2010, lone parent households experienced the highest rate of depravation, at 49.8 per cent.

In a study of Budget 2011, TASC found that the category most negatively affected by the budget was the ‘single with children’ group. Budget 2012 imposed further harsh cuts through focusing on secondary benefits and the restriction of certain schemes. In a recent ESRI study on the Distributional Impact of Tax, Welfare and Public Sector Pay Policies: 2009-2012, it was found that in Budget 2012, there were “greater proportionate losses for those on low incomes . . . as against those on the highest incomes.” (ESRI 2012: 55)
It can be quite difficult to understand the impact of cuts in secondary benefits on certain groups, as many families and individuals will be in receipt of a number of payments and when these are cut, the cumulative impact on recipients can be quite severe.

In order to help show some of the possible impacts, we have compiled two tables below to show the effect of lasts year’s cuts on two types of families. As can be seen from these tables, last year’s budget brought a significant loss of income to many lone parents. TASC is therefore calling for no cuts to social welfare payments, primary OR secondary in Budget 2013.

Examples of the effects of Budget 2012 on lone parents and their families

1This was discontinued for children aged two and three in Budget 2012
2 Contribution towards rent for those on rent supplement was increased by €6 a week.
3 Contribution of €25 per week for those doing a VEC course and availing of VEC provided child care, introduced in 2012

1Fuel allowance for smokeless fuel (€23.90 a week in 2011) was abolished in September 2011 and replace with the fuel allowance for non-smokeless fuel at €20 per week.
2 Child benefit for the 3rd child was reduced to €148 in Budget 2012
3Abolished for new claimants in 2012 and replaced with €20 top-up
4The payment for those on CE was abolished where they were claiming under One Parent Payment

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Closing the Gap

Today we launched Closing the Gap: TASC’s Proposals for a More Equitable Budget.

Our basic message is that there is a risk of major, negative and long-lasting social harm from the Government's target of another €8.6 billion of tax and cuts (including €3.5 billion to be announced in December) along the same lines as previous budgets. We need to change direction and look at tax reform and a plan to achieve sustainable Western European standards of public services, underpinned by major tax reform to pay for them.

We have chosen costed measures (on the basis of available data from official sources) to put together a package of proposals that meet the Government's target for €3.5 billion in the most jobs-friendly, egalitarian way possible, with 80 per cent coming from tax reform.

Our major prooosals include:
- An annual 0.35 per cent residential property tax, with an 'ability to pay' system of deferred payment. Our figures assume a 25 per cent rate of deferrals;
- Changes to CAT
- Substantial reform of pension tax reliefs
- Excise on economic 'bads' such as saturated fat, salt, added sugar
- Increasing carbon tax to €25 per tonne of CO2

As an imperative, we argue that no measures in Budget 2013 should reduce social transfers or public service supports to low income and vulnerable groups.