Budget or bust

 
 

With Budget 2011 looming, Sarah Doran investigates the uncertainty that the nation faces

The boom, the bust, the banks and the bailout: these four words have recently been immortalised in Irish discourse. On December 7th, the word ‘budget’ will inevitably be the buzzword.

An abundance of economic terminology has sailed above Irish heads amidst talk of European Union and International Monetary Fund intervention, bailouts and the recently published four-year plan. Whilst the plan details the government’s plan of action with regard to reducing state outgoings by €15 billion over the next four years, Budget 2011 will detail the state’s financial policy for the coming year.

Fine Gael had called for the Budget to be brought forward two weeks, a call which was rejected by Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Laying all political issues aside, difficult as that may be, what can the Irish people and indeed students expect from the upcoming budget?

The government intends to make €6 billion in spending cuts in 2011, this much is clear. Until it is published on December 7th, the precise stipulations with regard to the spending cuts in the Budget will remain a mystery. However, a plethora of predictions have materialised in the media in recent weeks and the newly published four-year plan arguably gives an indication of what can be expected for the coming year.

What will the Budget offer those in third-level education? It would seem at this point that an increase in the registration fee is inevitable. However, the increase won’t be as severe as first estimated. The registration fee is expected to rise from €1,500 to around €2,000, not €3,000 as was feared. This will prove a source of relief for those students and parents who can afford the extra €500, but offer little comfort to those who cannot.

Student grants and scholarships were cut by five per cent in 2010 and the USI had raised concern that they would face further cuts in 2011; the four-year plan indicates that the grant will indeed be cut by 5 per cent. A rising registration fee and falling grant will inevitably force some students out of third-level education. Whether this reduction in the grant will come as part of Budget 2011 is uncertain, leaving students in fearful anticipation of the December budget.

Those students hoping to secure employment in the public sector will inevitably face difficulties as the government aims to further reduce the public sector workforce. A reduction of ten per cent in wages for entry-level public servants will arguably offer little incentive to graduates; Budget 2011 may not cater to the class of 2011.

Reductions in social welfare payments are also inevitable. The four-year plan aims to cut spending in the sector by €2.8 billion over the next four years; it is likely that this will be evident in the upcoming budget, though the precise details cannot be predicted.

A drop of €1 in the minimum wage will doubtlessly prove cause for concern amongst students who work in order to cover costs. However, at €7.65, this wage will remain one of the highest in Europe. Considering the low minimum wage levels across Europe and the absence of a minimum wage rate in countries such as Sweden, it is arguably not as draconian a blow as was expected.

The Budget will prove a bitter pill to swallow for the Irish people; the nation feels as though it is being punished for the irresponsible actions of a select few. It as of yet unclear whether the Budget will even be approved in the Dáil, as independent candidates are threatening to withdraw their support and backbenchers are threatening revolt. Are these acts of publicity-grabbing political opportunism or actions taken in the national interest? In the current climate, it is difficult to differentiate.

Should the Budget go ahead or should it be suspended in favour of a general election as many politicians have argued? Would an election followed by a budget not be more prudent considering that we know the government will be dissolved in a few months? EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn says that it is “essential” that Ireland passes the Budget sooner rather than later.

If the country does desire EU and IMF assistance, it is necessary to pass a budget that indicates Ireland’s commitment toward reform. With fear and speculation rife across Europe, it is argued that Ireland must act quickly in order to avoid falling into a queue behind Spain and Portugal should they too require economic assistance. Nobody can be sure if this will happen; uncertainty seems to be the only constant.

With fear of draconian cuts and rising tax rates, perhaps it is no wonder that The Late Late Toy Show appeared on our screens in November this year. As the nation faces an uncertain financial future the weight of Santa Claus’ sack will be inevitably be determined by Budget 2011.

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