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Keep your hand off my wallet: Close

February 16, 2005 12:00 AM
By Seamus Close

Another year and another league table of District Rate increases. I take small comfort that the district I represent, Lisburn City Council, was able to limit its rate increase by a tiny 0.8%.

Any satisfaction in this achievement is tempered by the fact that all ratepayers in Northern Ireland will face a Regional Rate hike of 9% next year, and the year after that -- guaranteed. This is three times the current rate of inflation.

But it gets worse. The Government's current plans for water charging will mean an average new bill of £115 next year, rising to an average of £340 by 2008. Is this punishment for the Government's underinvestment over the decades?

These increases aren't theory -- they're real. Families are somehow going to have to pay out hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of their hard-earned income.

Direct Rule Ministers like to repeatedly accuse us that we don't pay our fair share, ignoring the facts that:

  • Average Northern Ireland household income is 19% below the UK average
  • More NI households (21%) rely on benefits, than in the UK overall (12%)
  • NI households pay 26% more for fuel, light and power than in the rest of the UK

We are not spongers, Minister Pearson.

All we ask for is a fair method to pay our fair share of taxes. One that is based on our ability to pay. And for precious but essential resources such as water, the more you use, the more you should pay. You spend less if your car uses less petrol, so why not for a more efficient use of water?

A local income tax and some form of water metering with built-in safeguards for the vulnerable would be more just means of payment, as it measures both ability to pay and actual usage.

The principle of progressive taxation is well established -- the higher your income, the more you're expected to help less fortunate individuals.

The "polluter pays" principle is also widely accepted -- those who use our precious resources less efficiently pay a greater share of the full costs.

Yet inexplicably the Government is deaf to these two principles. What it is pursuing will only increase financial burdens on already stretched families and vulnerable people, and not achieve improvements in the use or our appreciation of essential public services.

It's time for the Government to wise up to the common sense of long-suffering Northern Ireland residents.

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