The whole country has been up in arms since last week’s budget and the announcement that the medical cards for the over-70s would be harshly means-tested. There were other controversial movements in the budget also but this seemingly is the one that has grabbed most of the headlines and caused the most controversy. The aim of the cut was to eliminate medical cards for “better off” pensioners. As Michael O’Leary said on Newstalk recently, the richer people in this country generally don’t use medical cards because they have enough money for private health care and don’t get in line at the local clinic. Never a truer word spoken.
The projected net benefit to the economy was to save about EUR 100M while at the same time the government managed to find about EUR 1bn for the local authority mortgage scheme to buy houses in the “social and affordable” category, which according to one recent report are currently retailing at a higher price than similar houses in the non-social and affordable category. Government bailing out the builders again? You’d be hard pressed to say otherwise.
One really has to question whether or not the government is really looking at the problems here. On one hand they were trying to remove benefits from those who could perhaps afford the one or two doctors visits per year that they were charging against their medical card in order to not spend a measly EUR 100M on health care for the elderly. On the other hand we see that the government are more than willing to throw about EUR 1bn on social housing, that is in negative equity with the rest of the market, bailing out builders, and seemingly not looking into the many, many cases of benefit fraud whereby “single mothers” avail of 3/4-bed homes for free with their unspoken live-in boyfriends. Rents on these premises could be anywhere in the order of EUR 1000 per month which I think that we can all agree is far more than say a few visits to the local GP each year. Fair and balanced view at managing the economy or dodging the bullet of actually having to deal with a real problem that is turning the country into a welfare state? I fear that the latter applies in this case.
This morning Brian Cowen, backed by Mary Harney and John Gormley, announced what has been pitched by the media as a u-turn, backtrack, a 180, an adjustment, a rethink, and many other terms but let’s face it; let’s call it what it is, a cock-up of a decision in the budget. A budget that contains no logic whatsoever towards solving the current economic crisis and appears to do no more than create a wealth of issues that will stall the recovery of the Irish financial climate. I had hoped that Brian Cowen would be a breath of fresh air when he took the reins and that the government would take a new direction under his leadership. Sadly I now fear that we are in for a second installment in the mode of Bertie – a fashion of which I can say, I do not think was best for Ireland.