Water tax to 'crush' optimism of voters
Poll: more than half feel hope at last - but charges rock confidence
The introduction of higher- than-expected water charges looks set to crush voters' belief that they will be better off next year.
According to the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll, a clear majority believe they will be either the same or better off next year. The poll has also found a similar majority believe that this year they are either the same or better off than last year.
However, this first indication of a tentative return of optimism is expected to be shattered by the announcement last week that water charges will be higher than people had been led to believe.
The poll was taken between July 18 and 30 - the day before the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) published details of how much people will have to pay for water.
Under the water charges system, a family of two adult children will be hit with water bills of almost €500 a year, despite a Government promise to keep the "average" charge per household at €238.
A household with just two adults and two children will also pay €278 - €40 above what the Government promised families would pay in advance of the local and European elections in May.
The Government's claim that children would not be charged came under fire after the water regulator last week approved a sharp reduction in the free allowance proposed for children.
The Coalition said that up to 38,000 litres a year would be allocated, which has been reduced to just 21,000 litres.
It means parents will only be given enough free water for their children to take one shower and flush the toilet once each day. Everything else will have to be paid for.
The confirmation that charges will be higher than expected is now likely to severely dent the first signs of optimism among voters that their personal circumstances will improve next year.
Today's opinion poll shows a significant fall in the number of people who felt they would be worse off next year, down from 54pc to 33pc in a year.
The poll also found a noticeable increase in the number of people who felt they would be better off next year, up from 11pc to 18pc.
There was also a sizeable increase in those who felt their personal circumstances would be the same next year, up from 30pc to 41pc.
The water charges announcement comes as satisfaction with the Government remains low despite the cabinet reshuffle, election of a new Labour leader, and a promise of government renewal.
The poll has found dissatisfaction with the Government is up three points (69pc) with less than one-quarter (23pc) of voters satisfied with its performance.
Almost half (48pc) believe more women should have been promoted in the reshuffle. However, half (50pc) also believe the Government will run full-term until 2016.
In terms of party support, excluding 'Don't Knows', Fine Gael (25pc) is down four points since the last comparable poll in April; Fianna Fail (20pc) is up two points; Sinn Fein (24pc) is up four points; Labour (7pc) is up a point; Greens (1pc) are down one; Independents/others (23pc) up two.
The new Labour leader, Joan Burton, will be disappointed her party has not registered an appreciable increase in support. However, the Social Protection Minister has recorded a personal satisfaction rating of 27pc, an 11 point increase on her predecessor Eamon Gilmore (16pc).
Satisfaction with the other party leaders also remains low: Enda Kenny (27pc) unchanged; Micheal Martin (27pc) up one; Gerry Adams (25pc) down one.
The poll also found an increased two-in-five voters believe Ms Burton will ameliorate the Government's austerity, while two-in-five (41pc) do not believe she will, down 12 points.
However, only one-third (32pc) believes the new Labour leader should pull out of Government if austerity is not relaxed, down 20 points while 33pc believe she should, up three points.
Almost half of voters, meanwhile, believe €2bn is too large an adjustment in the forthcoming Budget.
It is against this comprehensive declaration of a lack of faith in the Government that the reality of higher-than- expected water charges were announced last week.
The CER has set the charges for the next two years, based on a Government subsidy. The total cost of providing water services is €594 per household, but the taxpayer funding reduced the bill to an average of €238.
The Sunday Independent can today also reveal that over 90,000 'ghost' households are included in the calculation of the €238 average charge.
The average charge was arrived at by dividing the number of households in the country connected to the water system by the amount Irish Water has to raise.
But this calculation also includes holiday homes and 91,500 vacant houses where nobody lives. Their inclusion brought down the average figure, making it appear smaller than most people will have to pay.
With no opposition coming from the Government side to the charging regime, householders will be left to make their objections known to the CER.
The consultation period on the charges runs to August 28. Members of the public are being encouraged to write to the regulator on Irish Water's proposals at Commission for Energy Regulation, The Exchange, Belgard Square North, Tallaght, Dublin 23, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.