Budget 2023 in the South has come and gone in the space of a couple of days and will most likely be forgotten about by next week. Almost every detail in it was leaked straight from the cabinet table long before the official announcements were made in the Dáil.
This year the Budget was politically significant in some important ways. Faced with an unprecedented cost of living crisis, which could spiral out of control over the coming winter, the political establishment has been forced to intervene to support households. This goes against their political instincts but they are clearly fearful of the months ahead. A global energy supply crisis, triggered by the Russian State’s war on Ukraine, has injected a huge degree of uncertainty and unpredictability. Europe faces economic chaos following the end of supplies of cheap Russian gas and oil. While Britain, which remains Ireland’s major trading partner, is descending rapidly into economic and political crisis with potentially dire social and economic consequences.
In this context, some measures in the Budget are positive for working people. The provision of free textbooks to primary schoolchildren is a step forward but it is something that should have always been in place. A reduction in third level fees is also a positive. For socialists, however, it is a fundamental political principle that access to education, at all levels, should be free and funded from general taxation.
The greasy fingerprints of Fine Gael are all over the Budget. The increase in the upper tax threshold for the higher rate top of tax will benefit some workers on average wages, but it is a nice boost for the top earners who Fine Gael wish to cultivate as their political base. The tax credits for renters, however, are an insult as the housing crisis descends into social catastrophe, and will prove very quickly to be absolutely useless.
Paltry increases in social welfare protections, in a context where inflation for 2022 and 2023 will exceed 15%, amount to cuts in payments. During the pandemic, the establishment were forced by circumstances to admit that the very basic minimum to survive is a payment of EUR 350 per week. Yet they now persist in paying social protection rates well below this figure. In doing so they maintain their determination to condemn hundreds of thousands to lives of poverty.
Budget 2023 does nothing to address the scale of the current cost of living crisis for the working class. Rent controls, price controls, provision for a mass public house building programme and other measures that could really make a difference, are all absent. A fearful establishment is hopeful that the few minor concessions it has made will be enough to satisfy the working class; they will not be.
As this crisis deepens, the political initiative will pass from the Dáil into the workplaces, streets and communities. Neo-liberal capitalism, which has dominated our lives over the past 40 years, is falling apart before our eyes and leaving untold social and environmental destruction in its wake. It is becoming clear by the day that the cost of living crisis cannot be resolved on a capitalist basis.
Militant Left argues that the working class must push for the transition to socialism and place ownership and control of the economy into the hands of the working class. Only on this basis is it possible to end, once and for all, the recurrent crises of capitalism, which blight our lives.