Charlie Weston: Privileged wasters must feel the pain, too
AFTER tomorrow's Budget, the old "austerity fatigue" phrase will doubtless be trotted out. By the end of this week we will have had six budgets trying to readjust our state finances and save the economy.
Householders are tired of it all and are suffering from the aforementioned fatigue, we will be told.
Well, let me tell you that is wrong, totally wrong. People in this country are not suffering from austerity fatigue. They are suffering from austerity overload.
The word fatigue is a tame one – it totally fails to capture the extent of the mess households are in. The scale of the rage out there is denied by using nonsense phrases like that.
And there is rage. We may not be marching in the streets but people are furious. Maybe we will start marching because there is real hardship being suffered by householders in this country and the unfortunate fact is that there is more to come. People in this country have had a bigger lash of austerity imposed on them than any developed economy.
Even more than the people of Greece, who seem to be constantly on the streets rioting, firing flares and being confronted by robocop-style police officers.
A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( OECD) tells us that the "adjustment measures" introduced in this country since 2008 have been far more severe than those in any other western country.
We have already endured a head-spinning €24bn in cuts and new taxes since the downturn took hold five years ago. Tomorrow, Ministers Noonan and Howlin will outline another €3.5bn of slicing away at our incomes and our benefits. And it won't end there. Another €3.1bn is due to be siphoned off us in 2014, with a further €2bn smash and grab raid in 2015. Middle Ireland will be the big loser, as it always is.
But despite all the cutting, adjusting, tax hiking and financial filleting of the coping classes, the fact remains that the country's collective foreign debts are still 10 times those of Greece.
And never mind what the country owes – when it comes down to the household level we are the most heavily indebted in Europe.
The previous five stinker Budgets have sucked a combined €10,000 a year out of the household finances of a middle-income family.
Expect that to rise by at least another €2,000 after tomorrow's announcements.
Before the bust there were 2.1 million taxpayers paying €13.5bn in income tax.
The hated universal social charge has since been introduced to ensure that fewer taxpayers pay even more.
Now 1.8 million income taxpayers are paying €15.3bn in income tax and the universal social charge.
That's 300,000 fewer taxpayers paying almost €2bn extra in taxes.
Property tax and child benefit – to be cut for the third time – will extract more big chunks of the income that families have to live on.
No wonder that already around 1.8 million people have €100 or less left at the end of the month after essential bills are paid, according to research commissioned by the Irish League of Credit Unions.
Families and pensioners are set to be left financially bruised after Wicked Wednesday.
But a number of different approaches suggest themselves.
Whatever happened to the bonfire of the quangos?
The number of quangos remains unknown as the minister in charge of reform, Brendan Howlin, admitted that some only meet every few years. We need a cull of these quangos.
And there is a coterie of bankers being paid huge pensions, despite their banks being bust.
And a coterie of bust-creating retired Cabinet ministers lap it up thanks to overburdened taxpayers supporting their comfortable retirement.
I could go on, but suffice to say that the Budget will have no credibility whatsoever with Middle Ireland unless this cadre of privileged wasters feels some pain too in our age of austerity rage.