Transcript of the pre-budget submission FLAC's Yvonne O'Sullivan made to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Debate on Wednesday 16 July 2014
24 July 2014
I thank the committee for inviting FLAC to make a presentation on its pre-budget submission. The Oireachtas and its standing committees play a vital role in overseeing the Government’s compliance with its international human rights law and the State's obligations and this is also applies to the budgetary process. The State has duties, freely entered into, to immediately provide protection of a minimum core of human rights in key areas of life. These are at the heart of our concern regarding budget 2015. FLAC is currently co-ordinating a shadow report, which will reflect evidence of how the State is meeting its economic, social and cultural rights obligations on the ground. In light of that, our submission focuses on how best to protect vulnerable groups by ensuring the State adheres to such standards. FLAC believes this would produce a budget that allocates resources in a way that is proportionate, transparent and fair.I will summarise our proposals for the budget. The Government should provide a basic level of subsistence - in other words, a social protection floor - that would allow all persons to live their lives with dignity. The Government should carry out impact assessments of budget proposals before decisions are made and not after, as is currently the practice. The Government should ensure more transparency, accountability and participation in the budget process by using a human rights framework. This also includes greater participation and input from stakeholders, including groups directly affected by the decisions as well as valuable expertise as in that of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The Government should make budgets that are democratically and openly debated and discussed in the Oireachtas with adequate time and that are based on up to date, understandable legislative material. The Government should reduce expenditure on social protection through greater efficiencies rather than cutting payments to vulnerable groups.Systemic reforms in the appeals process such as improving decision-making at first instance could yield savings. Here, too, FLAC remains concerned that decision-making must meet basic human rights standards of fair procedure and transparency. The Government should also alleviate concerns about the recovery of overpayments by respecting the right to a minimum income. The Department is able to unilaterally recover up to 15% of a basic social welfare payment which means that the State could put a person at risk of dropping below its own basic minimum income limit of €186 per week. FLAC recommends implementation of a robust appeals procedure and clear guidelines on how a person's circumstances should be taken into account in assessing his or her capacity to repay the amount of the overpayment.The Government should reinstate and put on a statutory footing The Lough credit union repayment scheme. This was broadly a successful initiative that assisted vulnerable MABS clients without bank accounts to access credit. Its termination was a retrograde step and should be reversed.In summary, the Government has legal obligations in the operation and functions of all public bodies and Departments to uphold the right of every person in the State to a life of dignity. FLAC recommends a human rights approach to budgetary decisions and the process of budgeting which would help the State to meets its commitments.I thank the committee. I am happy to take questions from members.