The next Programme for Government must make choices in favour of those who have the least and have been hit the hardest by austerity. This requires not just a commitment to guaranteeing the rights and welfare of the most vulnerable in society, but also a focus on the values needed in building a strong and cohesive society.
The Community Platform, a network of 29 national networks and organisations working to address poverty, social exclusion, and inequality, has proposed that the first, fundamental step must be to adopt values of economic and social justice, social inclusion, human rights, equality, participation, and sustainability.
Vote for stability (and progress). These were the main slogans of the outgoing Government parties in fighting the election. It is hard to see either in the wake of austerity and the devastating cuts to our communities and the community sector. Spiralling homelessness and inadequate housing, the health crisis and the collapse of the vision of universal healthcare in the community, low-paid and insecure work, the lack of provision of safe Traveller accommodation and child poverty are shocking indicators of failed governance.
This was brought into stark focus by the tragic deaths of ten Travellers, including five children, at a temporary halting site in Carrickmines; the mother with her three young children living and sleeping in a car in Tallaght; the state-sanctioned poverty of children growing up in direct provision; cuts to medical cards for children with life-threatening diseases; the 91-year-old man waiting 29 hours on a trolley in Accident and Emergency; and the father of two living on the minimum wage and crying as he did not know how to feed his children. This is certainly not progress.
Ensuring progress requires a paradigm shift in the way we organise our economy and redistribute wealth. A commitment to a progressive and equitable tax system is key and should provide the bedrock in a Programme for Government. This should be the starting point in a move away from a low tax, low pay, and low public investment-economy. We want a country run for its people not for its economy.
Develop a progressive tax regime
- Ensure a tax take as percentage of GDP of between 40% and 45%. Increase the income-tax rate for high earners.
- Introduce a wealth tax on all assets for high earners.
- Increase Capital Gains Tax and Capital Acquisitions Tax.
- Introduce a Financial Transactions Tax.
- Introduce a refundable tax credit system for people on low incomes.
Renew public services
- Increase investment in public services to ensure they are adequate to meet needs of society.
- Implement a health and social-care strategy to provide services and supports to enable people to live independently for as long as possible in their own homes.
- Provide access to more intensive learning options for adults with literacy or numeracy needs and low or no qualifications.
- Increase publicly-subsidised, comprehensive, and affordable early-years and after-school care infrastructure along with training, living wages and quality conditions for childcare staff.
Ireland is now one of the most unequal countries in the EU in terms of income and wealth, yet we have one of the highest GDPs per capita. Inequality erodes trust and social solidarity. It is not an accident of fate. It is shaped and influenced by our political systems and institutions. Building a society with equality at its heart is good for everyone. Evidence shows that more equal societies do better in every sphere of life and that people are healthier and happier. This is not a utopian vision, equality is a conscious choice. The great strides that have been made for LGBT rights demonstrate this. Equality can be brought about through political commitment to rights and justice.
Ensuring an adequate income through making work pay, tackling the gender pay gap and providing adequate social protection to have a minimum essential standard of living are critical to achieving equality and need to be a core element of the Programme for Government. The introduction of poverty-proofing in public expenditure and taxation – to ensure economic choices do not adversely affect women, minority and other vulnerable groups – is also critical in the Programme for Government.
Ensure income equality and social inclusion
- Ensure that a living wage is paid in all sectors.
- Increase all basic social welfare levels to the level of the Minimum Essential Standard of Living.
- Restore full social welfare payments to those under 26 years.
- Reverse the reduction in the income disregard for lone parents on One-Parent Family Payment.
- Implement the pay transparency initiatives recommended by the European Commission to reduce the gender pay gap.
- Provide adequate pensions and secondary income supports to all people in later life.
- Ensure adequate provision for the additional cost of disability calculated for people with disability.
Promoting and supporting decent work and providing quality education and training to unemployed people and those alienated from the labour market will be an important political stimulus for greater equality. These need to be centre stage in the Programme for Government.
Create decent work for all
- Develop a person-centred Public Employment Service.
- Fully implement the right to collective bargaining.
- Reinforce the instruments and institutions for the protection and enforcement of employment standards.
- Introduce further measures to tackle insecure contracts and precarious working conditions.
- Use public-procurement tenders to ensure successful tenderers implement quality-employment standards.
Advance social justice
- Implement a National Action Plan for Social Inclusion based on the right to an adequate standard of living.
- Create affordability and certainty in housing and increase access to social housing.
- Invest in Traveller-specific accommodation.
- Increase resources to tackle homelessness.
- Increase rent supplement levels to match market rent levels and regulate rent levels.
Sustainability and the implementation of the climate change agreement in Paris must be prioritised in the Programme for Government. Implementation of EU targets for reduction of emissions and for the provision of renewable energy should be pursued without derogations. A White Paper on rural development that addresses poverty issues and seeks to reverse rural decline should also be included.
Communities and their most isolated members must be supported to participate in the decisions that impact their lives and that broader and more critical participation of people in political and economic decision-making be made a priority. Investing in and providing support for innovation by community- sector organisations in responding to issues of poverty, social exclusion, discrimination and inequality is vital.
Ensure participation in decision making
- Create and support opportunities for the active participation of marginalised communities in participative forms of democracy.
- Take steps to establish the empowering processes needed to engage people in framing and making political decisions at national and local levels
- Take action to address the invisibility of minority groups in representational political processes at local and national levels.
- Take steps to increase the number of women and people from minority groups participating in the political system at all levels.
Edel McGinley is Director of the Migrant Rights Centre.