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Terry Prone: We’re not pulling together, minister. You make cuts, but it’s us who suffer

A GOVERNMENT minister said something truthful on radio. He said that not everybody was going to like the Government's Four Year Plan. He could sing that, if he had an air to it. We may now know the worst – or nearly the worst, since the Budget will be more precise – but there's surprisingly little comfort in knowing you're going to be almost €5,000 worse off.

Here's the reality. Remember, until relatively recently, when your kids wanted a particular computer game that was too expensive, or to attend an expensive concert, you decided you'd find the money for it, somehow? You had to draw a line in the sand on that generosity a while back.

In recent months, you learned how to say, “Sorry. Can't. No way. Don't ask me again. Please.”

In much the same way, when you went to the supermarket recently, you went with a list, largely made up of the half-price items in the newspaper ads, and you stuck to that list. No treats.

You didn't even go down the aisle where the brightly coloured packs of crisps and minichocolate bars live, lest they seduce you into spending money you no longer had.

The days of the easy treat died a while back because none of us had enough “discretionary spend” available any more.

Discretionary spend is the money left over when you've heated the water, fed the kids and paid the mortgage or the rent. It's no longer available.

For people who have cut their spending to the bone, the Four Year Plan was as welcome as a toothache on top of a broken jaw.

It's all made up of relatively small charges, and they won't all kick in at the same time, but when you add them together, they represent the tipping point at which vague worry becomes constant focused anxiety for many citizens.

RIOTING

Particularly the sort of citizens who never in their life got an INCREASE of €4,500 in any one year.

Having that amount of money cut off the family budget, for them, is the difference between normal living and poverty.

The overwhelming majority of the people of this island wouldn't even consider rioting in the street and are frightened and appalled by those who do it.

But politicians on all sides would do well not to infuriate the already enraged public by telling us we must all pull together. Yeah, right.

How, precisely, does a family on less than ¤50,000 a year facing a reduction of roughly a month's salary pull together with someone on twice or three times that? Politicians should also stop praising themselves for making “hard decisions”.

Making decisions isn't hard. Suffering their consequences is very hard, and that's what the public has to do for the next four years, at the very least.

Of course there will be hope and laughter and fun within those four years. Statistics suggest there's less depression around when people are put to the pin of their collar to simply survive.

We used to laugh at our grandparents warbling on about how they had to drink tea out of jamjars and lie to the rent collector. They didn't mind us, because they knew coming through difficult times had strengthened them.

We know all that, but it's very hard, when you're facing into a future of contraction and threat.

This morning, when I opened my emails at dawn, I found messages from friends, each of them frightened in different ways by yesterday's plan, each of them wondering why they have to suffer for the misdeeds of others.

Not only have the last months robbed us of treats and discretionary spend, they've also robbed us of certainty. We'd cope better with these cuts and taxes if we knew they guaranteed future growth and jobs for our kids. But guarantees have also disappeared.


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