Catalonia: Aragonès and the commons close the budget agreement with the promise of updating social assistance | Catalonia

The president of the En Comú Podem parliamentary group, Jéssica Albiach, and the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès.
The president of the En Comú Podem parliamentary group, Jéssica Albiach, and the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès.David Zorrakino (Europa Press)

The Government of the Generalitat and the Catalunya en Comú Podem party have formalized this Thursday the agreement that will allow them to have the necessary majority to approve the Catalan budgets for next year. The Minister of Economy, Jaume Giró (Junts), did not attend the formalization of the agreement. The commons had already shown their support for the accounts after the CUP decided to withdraw from the negotiation, but the agreement includes some changes claimed by Jéssica Albiach’s party with respect to the initial project, especially in the field of taxation and healing. One of them is the Government’s commitment to update the Catalan sufficiency income indicator (IRSC), a scale that is used to mark the ceiling of different social benefits, and which has been frozen for 11 years, with which benefits they have not been able to increase in all this time.

The negotiation of the agreement has been controversial from the outset, when it was Aragonès who took the initiative to seek the commons as a parliamentary crutch despite opposition from Junts, who were absent from some meetings. Last week, the counselor Giró presented some amendments of a fiscal nature, which are the ones that are right at the center of the negotiation, although today he has absent himself from the act. The spokeswoman for the Department of Economy and Finance has downplayed this lack and assured that he will be the one to defend the accounts in plenary session that will approve them next Thursday.

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Performance update. The Government’s commitment responds to a long demand from social entities and unions, but its fulfillment will not be immediate. The agreement with the commons makes this commitment subject to the Generalitat coordinating the management of the Minimum Vital Income, a state benefit that is having a very low implementation, and that is complemented by the Catalan Guaranteed Citizen Income, with which its coordination is necessary to make it more efficient. The Generalitat has been demanding the management of the IMV for months, but how it will be done has not yet been specified.

When Giró presented the budget project in Parliament, the social sector warned that, once again, an update of the IRSC was not contemplated. This scale is the amount that the regional administration sets annually as a ceiling to allow citizens to access different social benefits. It is what establishes the perimeter of people to whom a benefit is directed, and it was created in 2006 to exceed the state scale (IPREM). The law stated that it had to be updated annually in the budgets, but it has not been updated or in accordance with the IPC, despite various parliamentary motions that called for it. Now, for the first time, the IPREM, which has been updated, already exceeds the Catalan scale. Since 2010, the IRSC is frozen at 569 euros per month in 14 monthly payments, or 664 in 12 monthly payments. With it, the income ceiling that a family can have is calculated to be granted, for example, the guaranteed citizenship income, and it is also the scale to calculate the benefit: a family of one member will receive 100% of the IRSC, percentage that will increase if there are more members. Therefore, the freezing of the scale not only limits the people who can ask for help, but also prevents it from being greater.

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Taxation. The Government will take advantage of the Accompaniment law that will also be debated in the plenary session on Thursday to modify the tax sections of the autonomous income tax section downwards, which will mean reductions for taxpayers who enter less than 35,000 euros gross per year (equivalent to a tax base of less than 33,000 euros). The biggest beneficiaries will be the lowest incomes. Those who credit up to 12,450 euros will see their applicable rate reduced from 12% to 10.5%. In fact, these taxpayers are the origin of the tax modification, since what the Government intends to reverse is the ruling of the Constitutional Court of November that eliminated a deduction approved in 2020 for this group.

Among the measures, other small changes are also introduced in the deductions for single-parent families, which will be equal to the rest for their rental contracts and when they have a child or adopt. Likewise, the Inheritance tax equates the people benefited with the treatment that the children of deceased persons currently receive.

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Health reinforcement. The agreement envisages giving a mandate to the Health department to internalize the provision of the 061 telephone service, and also calls for an evaluation of whether 112, the emergency telephone number, could be internalized. The project also includes a reinforcement of care for mental health and addictions, with an increase of 80 million euros to make policies in this area and the reinforcement of professionals. A suicide prevention service will also be deployed on the same phone number 061.

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Another outstanding health aspect is the commitment to recover health care activity on issues that are not related to the coronavirus, an activity that has suffered neglect during the pandemic. Thus, 60 million euros will be allocated to the recovery of diagnostic activity and disease control, and 100 million to increase surgical activity. There will also be an impact on oral health with the implementation of Law 12/2020 that guarantees public care for the child population and vulnerable adults, with an increase of 40.5 million.

Infrastructures. The agreement includes the reservation of initial items to implement tram services in the regions of Bages, the Costa Brava, the Pyrenees and the Ebro. Likewise, the amendments introduced oblige the Government to finalize the deployment of Rodalies services in Lleida and to study an improvement of services in the Penedès.

Living place. The agreement with the commons includes, in the matter of housing, some of the demands that the CUP put on the table when it was part of the negotiation. One of them is to reach 1,000 million euros in housing policies, 251 million more than what was foreseen in the initial budget project. This additional item will serve to increase the public stock through trial and error or the construction of new homes. The Government will also increase the contribution to the Barcelona Housing Consortium with 3.2 million euros, following complaints from the City Council for covering more than its share.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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