Mary-Claire O’Sullivan (37) is a train driver on the Connolly-Sligo and Dublin commuter routes. Her priority is to buy a home in Dublin, from where she can get to work at Connolly station quickly given she sometimes starts at 5am.
She has been saving for more than two years, and watched houses she thought she could have afforded spiral out of her price range.
She applied for the help-to-buy scheme but was approved for just €6,000, and has to spend it on a new-build.
“And yet the Government are still allowing companies to buy up whole areas. I don’t know how they expect people to afford homes. There is no housing stock at all. I am going for mortgage approval again in the new year.”
She wanted to see help for first-time buyers, especially those who have to live in Dublin to be close to work for anti-social shifts, and a vacant property tax. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said on Tuesday the Government would review its help-to-buy scheme for first-time buyers next year, after confirming that the programme would be extended beyond the end of 2021 into next year.
“It is heart-breaking to see properties in the middle of town, prime retail estate which could be homes, lying derelict,” Ms O’Sullivan says.
On working on through the pandemic, she recalls “a lot of tension” on trains at the start.
“We were bringing a lot of frontline workers to work. There were some people not adhering to the rules, not wearing masks, and people were looking for more policing, pulling emergency chords or using the emergency intercoms when people weren’t wearing masks. But it settled down.” – KH
‘Not worth talking about’
Lorry driver Stephen Smyth thinks the Government could have gone further to help people managing the rising cost of living in the budget, particularly those who cannot work from home.
The small benefits offered in the budget, more take-home pay for workers and increases of €5 to €10 on various allowances, do not go far enough for him.
“I know they are giving a bit of an increase but it is not worth talking about. For a family struggling to get by, what addition would €5 or €10 be to a family. I don’t think it is any addition. What they are talking about is ridiculous. You wouldn’t give a fiver to a child,” he said.
“What they are talking about is pennies when people’s backs are against the wall. I don’t find it useful at all.”
Smyth sees the carbon tax rise, putting an additional €1.48 on the cost of a full tank of diesel, as being a penalty on people who cannot work from home where remote workers are receiving the benefit of tax relief on expenses they incur from working at home.
“The budget is more helping the people working from home than the people who have to travel. There is no reward for people who have to travel up and down to Dublin,” he said.
“That person sitting at home gets tax back. Builders and lorry drivers, people who cannot work from home, they are not saving anything. It is costing them more to go to work.”
He plans to reduce his personal spending now to cover the higher costs and is concerned about the cost of energy, which has “gone through the roof.”
“I would be far more worried about the time when I move into my house and what the price of electricity is going to be in six months’ time,” he said.
“It is all a worry down the line.” – SC
‘Are you actually kidding me?’
Beautician Lisa O’Shea does not see the budget helping her situation.
A tenant of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme in her home town of Cahirciveen, Co Kerry, the 38-year-old single mother of one says she is facing homelessness because the house she has lived in for the past 12 years has been sold in an online auction.
She tried to buy the house having saved for a deposit over the years for a mortgage from her local Credit Union but the borrowing limit meant she was outbid by €6,000 when the house was sold in an online auction for €135,000, well in excess of the €90,000 asking price.
“The budget is not going to help me. Absolutely not,” she said.
“I heard Paschal Donohoe talking about the country facing a ‘better and brighter future’ – oh my God, are you actually kidding me? I don’t see it making any difference to my life.”
The benefit from the higher tax cut-off and higher tax credits – about €350 per year for the average worker – will not offset the increasing cost of electricity and fuel.
“It is not enough. With the way the cost of electricity has gone up, car fuel has gone nuts, home fuel has gone nuts, that €350 wouldn’t last candlelight,” she said.
Plans to build 4,000 new affordable purchase homes and 9,500 new social homes by 2025 offer O’Shea no immediate help in her predicament.
She would like to see the Government go much further by buying and turning vacant and derelict properties in rural towns into residential homes for people looking for homes.
She says she cannot understand why the Government plans to deliver another 14,000 HAP tenancies, arguing the money should be going into building or buying social housing or helping people in HAP-rented properties to buy their own homes.
“They are going to further encourage the system that is for people to buy up houses and rent them rather than giving people the opportunity to buy their own houses,” she said.
“For me I just think I am never going to buy a home. I just can’t see it happening.” – SC
‘Bread crumbs all ’round’
He says he experienced high rents and an eviction in the private rented sector, and he is now sharing with a friend where his rent is “reasonable”.
Nevertheless, he says, “between paying for gas and electricity metres, food – the bills still eat up a high proportion of our collective incomes”.
He will not see any increase in his weekly income, unless his employer increases pay in line with the increase in the minimum wage which will go up from €10.20 an hour to €10.50 next year.
He does not qualify for the fuel allowance, and so will not benefit from the increase of €5 per week. He wants to see a cap introduced on gas and electricity prices.
He says wages in the grocery sector, especially for new entrants, are “probably too low for a sustainable life” and would like to see the introduction of a statutory ‘living wage’ of about €14 to €15 an hour .
“The Budget is just the same old, same old. The €5 increases won’t even match inflation. It’s farcical. I think all working people expected this is the kind of budget they’d roll out with a a divide and conquer approach. There are a few increases for some age groups and very little for working people. For really all of us low-paid, over-worked people, this is not going to lift morale.”
In health, again as a lower-paid worker, he neither qualifies for a medical card nor can afford private health insurance. He wants to see urgent roll-out of Sláintecare, to end what he describes as a “three tier” health system.
‘Nothing in it for renters’
Ben Fraser has been working from home since February but feels the Government could have helped people out in other ways, rather than offering tax relief on remote working expenses.
The digital marketing executive will be one of the many remote workers who can avail of an income tax deduction of up to 30 per cent of heat, electricity and broadband expenses.
Previously, remote workers could deduct 10 per cent of heat and electricity expenses and 30 per cent of broadband costs. It is now 30 per cent for all three. The measure is being put on a legislative basis – a recognition that remote working will be part of working lives post-pandemic.
Fraser has only returned to the office for an occasional working day in recent weeks but does not see the tax relief as being a huge benefit when people face much bigger costs.
“It sounds nice but in real terms and also in more philosophical terms it doesn’t really mean much,” he said.
For renters like him in Dublin city centre, Fraser, who is in his late 20s, believes that the Government should have done something more meaningful for people by addressing the rising cost of rent, car insurance or healthcare.
The fact that there was not a “symbolic gesture” from the Government to signal that it was at least trying to deal with a “completely broken rental market” was “incredible politically, never mind morally or otherwise”.
“My main expenses are not taxation. The worries around expenses generally come from rent and other expenses,” he said.
“The fact that there is nothing in it for renters and things like car insurance or health care that cost real money and fluctuate more dramatically seems counter-productive.”
More generally, he believes that the Government should not have reduced taxes for the highest earners in the country.
“The moment we are in doesn’t feel like a moment to cut taxes for people who have been largely protected by their employers through the crisis,” he said.
“The idea that I need tax relief now when there is expenditure required in health and housing is a misalignment of priorities right now.” – SC