Budget 2023 is a Budget for Families which is solidly progressive, placing proportionately more in the pocket of those families in Laois and Offaly who need it most.
I want to highlight some the measures although of course this won't be exhaustive.
The 25% reduction in childcare fees will see cuts for families of up to €2,000 per child in 2023. This is a massive Green win and credit to my colleague Minister Roderic O’Gorman for his work on this. It’s worth noting that he has secured €1bn for childcare in 2023 and this is 5 years ahead of schedule. This funding will help to make childcare more affordable, improve the wages of staff and help ensure sustainability for childcare providers.
Other significant measures for families were well flagged but worth revisiting: Free schoolbooks for primary children, pre-Christmas double payment of child benefit, €140/child, and a €500 lump sum and increased threshold for recipients of Working Family Payment to support low-income families.
This Budget allows for three €200 energy credits for every household with the first instalment before Christmas. And while not an instant fix, I am particularly delighted to see enhanced ambition of at least 37,000 retrofits next year, funded mainly by carbon tax revenue, with focus on low-income homes.
While the specifics of the Department of Agriculture Budget for 2023 have not been confirmed yet, I am pleased to have an agreed an 80% increase in funding for the organic farming scheme to €37m. I welcome the 12% increase in the forestry budget to €112m to fund the new National Forestry Programme.
The New Forestry Programme, which we are all looking forward to and worked hard to progress, will be unveiled later in the autumn and I am delighted to have secured an increase in funding to set it on a sure footing from the outset.
I pushed for the extension of the 20% cut in public transport fares to end 2023 and also welcome the additional 50% Youth Travel Card reduction extended throughout 2023 for commercial operators – the reduction being permanent on public transport. This latter measure is important for Laois and Offaly as many of our transport providers are commercial operators.
I welcome the €90m budget for nature and biodiversity, representing an 83% increase since we entered government.
Green policy is often viewed as solely environmental in focus but there is so much more to it: Advances in women’s health policy is something that we tirelessly advocate for. This Budget has many measures which target women’s health and equality: In particular I welcome the extension of the free contraception scheme to include all women up to 30 years.
I welcome the 0% VAT on hormone replacement therapy and period products, the introduction of publicly-funded IVF and €9m for domestic violence services, including the establishment of a new agency.
There are many measures in Budget 2023 to combat the crisis in the cost of living and they have been chosen to target those most impacted. Measures like the €400 fuel allowance lump sum payment, two €500 tax credits for renters (one this year and one next year) and the 80c increase in national minimum wage and resulting changes to USC and PRSI all stand out for me.
My whistle stop tour of the highlights of Budget 2023 ends with the new vacant property tax. Owners will have to pay three times their LPT bill if property is vacant for a 12-month period – let’s get people living in homes that are already built!
As a public representative in Laois and Offaly, I believe Budget 2023 sends a clear signal that this Government is supporting people in rural Ireland - with families, in communities, or running businesses and farms. We are in a cost of living crisis and in an energy transition, yet we are actively working to create a future that is healthier, more inclusive and sustainable.