EAPN Ireland Election Blog 2016

Blogs so fardoor hanger

6.  Guest Blog: Confronting Poverty, by Gerry Adams TD

5.  Guest blog: Renua will chart a route out of poverty for our lost and distressed citizens, by Lucinda Creighton

4.  Income and welfare – the forgotten debate?

3.  Some issues to think about in the election

2.  Community Platform’s Four Tests for the Next Government

1.  Poverty issues in the election

This Blog is tracking debates and proposals through the election on how to tackle poverty.

  • a series of short articles from  party spokespeople and TDs on how they plan to fight poverty
  • articles on what needs to be done on key policy areas
  • debates, interventions etc. as the election campaign goes on.

Our latest publication, the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland Briefing on poverty, 2015 and proposals for 2016-2021, describes in some detail the extent of poverty in Ireland and the challenges faced by the next Government.

We would also encourage you to print and use– Your free election door-hanger

Guest Blog: Confronting Poverty, by Gerry Adams TD

EAPN Ireland Election Blog No. 6

We asked all of the party leaders to present their view on the issues which they will take up in Government or Opposition over the next ten years to fight poverty in Ireland.GerryAdamsWeb3001

This is the second of the series, from Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein.  Sinn Fein’s policies can be read here and their manifesto, For a Fair Recovery, here.

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Confronting Poverty by Gerry Adams TD

Poverty in the Irish state remains endemic. According to the European Anti-Poverty Network the percentage of Irish people living in consistent poverty in 2014 was 8%, up from 4.2% in 2008. More dramatically the consistent poverty rate for the unemployed in 2013 was 22.6%, up from 9.7% in 2008.

Children remain the most vulnerable age group. Their plight gives an insight into a crisis that persists.

Several weeks ago the Minister for Children James Reilly was questioned at the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva on issues of poverty and disadvantage impacting on children. In the last 7 years the number of children living in consistent poverty has almost doubled. CSO figures for 2014 revealed that 11.2% of children live in consistent poverty. It is also estimated that one out of every three children is living in deprivation, while over a quarter of children at risk have no social worker.

The homeless and housing crisis have also brought their share of hardship. As many as 3,000 children now live in hotel rooms or hostels. They are there either because they are homeless or because they are refugees.

Two weeks ago an RTE report into families living in hotels provided an insight into the hardship they face and the difficulties confronting children. Behind the statistics are stories of real families and real children living in appalling conditions, often cold or hungry, and with little hope for the future.

The general election provides an opportunity to chart a different course in the fight against poverty. Any anti-poverty strategy by the next government requires two broad approaches. Firstly it must repair the damage inflicted on our income security system by its predecessors, invest in public services and promote the rights of workers. Secondly, it has to put in place safeguards to ensure that children, lone parents, people with disabilities and other low income groups are not left vulnerable to cuts into the future.

Serious efforts have been made by government parties to spin a line that ‘core’ welfare rates and the vulnerable were protected during the recession.  But the truth is that all income is ‘core’ to a low income household and not a house in the state that is dependent on social welfare has escaped unscathed from the cuts inflicted by the Fine Gael/Labour Party government and by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party before them.

Fine Gael, and to its shame Labour, actively cut and undermined the incomes of households depending on social welfare and those of low income working families alike. They did so directly by cutting social welfare schemes and payments and indirectly by unleashing thousands of free workers into the labour market via JobBridge.  The first time a Labour Party in government ever codified work for no pay.

As part of a strategy to fight poverty over five years in government Sinn Féin would target over €900 million in social welfare increases at those groups who are evidently most in need. This would mean restoring equality for young jobseekers by reinstating full rates of jobseekers allowance for the under 26s; recognising the cost of disability by increasing disability allowance by €20; increasing Fuel Allowance; Family Income Supplement and the Back to School Allowance; raising the cut-off age of the One Parent Family Payment to 12 years old, and increasing its earnings disregard to €120.

Sinn Féin would also ensure activation schemes are of high quality and support job creation by closing down the JobBridge and Gateway schemes and making greater use of the JobsPlus and Community Employment Schemes.

Sinn Féin would legislate to establish a Social Protection Adequacy Commission.  The principle function of the Commission would be to examine the minimum income required by different household types in receipt of social welfare to secure a Minimum Essential Standard of Living and make associated recommendations for adjustments to social welfare rates of payment to the Minister on an annual basis.

Sinn Féin is determined to create jobs – but the right kind of jobs; long-term, sustainable, decent paying and union recognising jobs.

As part of a strategy to fight poverty over five years in government Sinn Féin would:

  • Increase the National Minimum Wage (NMW) to €9.65 an hour
  • Track the hourly rate against median earnings and the cost of living
  • Support the introduction of a Living Wage, and as a first step make the public sector a Living Wage employer.
  • Deal with the uncertainty created by insecure and low hour contracts by introducing legislation that provides for Fair Hours contracts.
  • Strengthen compliance and enforcement of employment and workers’ rights both in legislation and resourcing of the Workplace Relations Commission Inspection Services.
  • Amend recent industrial relations legislation to provide for mandatory trade union recognition and collective bargaining rights

Tackling poverty isn’t just about putting cash in people’s pockets it requires a whole of government approach. The priorities in our manifesto reflect the comprehensive policy documents we’ve produced over the last couple of months.

Sinn Féin has long advocated for the introduction of ‘Equality Budgeting’ by Government to reduce the inequalities of government policy outcomes. We want to see the introduction of Equality Impact Assessments of Government’s expenditure and taxation policy and we propose to establish an independent Equality and Budgetary Advisory Body underpinned by legislation as a necessary action to secure equality of outcome for citizens and a progressive addition to the budgetary framework.

These are some of our proposals. There are others and we are willing to discuss what additional steps might be necessary. But one thing is certain doing nothing is not an option for those enduring poverty.

 

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Guest blog: Renua will chart a route out of poverty for our lost and distressed citizens, by Lucinda Creighton

EAPN Ireland Election Blog No. 5

We asked all of the party leaders to present their view on the issues which they will take up in Government or Opposition over the next ten years to fight poverty in Ireland.

This is the first of the series , from Lucinda Creighton, leader of the new party Renua Ireland.  Renua’s policies can be read here and their manifesto, Rewarding Work, Rebuilding Trust, here

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RENUA WILL CHART A ROUTE OUT OF POVERTY FOR OUR LOST AND DISTRESSED CITIZENS

BY LUCINDA CREIGHTON, Renua Ireland 

RENUA Ireland believes poverty particularly of a sustained nature is a drag on human potential. Lucinda

We are determined to as a party lead a systemic attack on poverty and the causes of poverty.

We, of course believe job creation and the opportunity to work is the surest route out of poverty.

That, by the way is what poor citizens want.

RENUA Ireland also believes that tax reform, structured to make it attractive for people on the minimum wage and the average wage to secure further work opportunities will play a key role in reducing instances of poverty.

A fundamental RENUA value however is that we need to build a strategic response to poverty.

Like building ‘The Great Society’ in America in the 1960’s we need a cross-Government strategy to tie polices together into a single framework.

Our strategy will prioritize areas in education where further investment is urgently required and in developing a housing strategy for working people who cannot access homes.

One key element of our strategy is to guarantee citizens a minimum lifestyle and to measure how effectively government is building an equal society.

We propose to do this via a radical new way of measuring social progress.

RENUA Ireland maintains that the central objective of Government is to raise the quality of life for all citizens in a society fit for all, not few. 

Other parties have spoken vaguely of ‘social targets’ but we will implement a clear and transparent mechanism to review our targets. 

We intend to introduce a method of measuring social progress annually, instead of simply focusing on GDP growth rates. 

Economic expansion is worthless if it is not felt at the grassroots level. RENUA Ireland believes that Ireland needs a Social Progress Indicator (SPI), an annual publication that can be clearly understood and will become the bellwether in measuring how Ireland is advancing each year. 

This will be a singular SPI that everyone understands, one constructed independently across a range of sub-indices.  It will be available on merrionstreet.ie for every citizen in the State to see. 

Social progress will be measured by areas as diverse as literacy, life expectancy by area, average incomes and crime.

This method of measurement is designed to ensure that no-one is left behind and has more than fifty international and national indices.

We are also anxious to establish a more human face in social policy.

In that regard we wish to establish an Assisted Families Unit, similar to Britain’s Troubled Family Unit.

The unit would have a specific budget and would initially operate on a pilot scheme working with a designated number of families.

It would involve the allocation of a dedicated family worker to identified families. This family worker would liaise with the relevant state agencies on behalf of the family and operate on the concept of an expanded public health nurse system. Intervention would be proactive rather than reactive.

On an equally practical level it should be noted RENUA Ireland was the first political party to put money-lending on the policy table.

Some 18% of our population have no access to mainstream banking services despite the fact that the introduction of basic banking products by the pillar banks was a requirement of the bailout.

RENUA Ireland insists that this must happen.

RENUA Ireland believes that basic banking loans can be provided affordably by providing for a modest deduction at source from social welfare income that is paid into designated basic bank accounts (current accounts with debit cards).

As the direct debit is guaranteed, such facilities can be provided very cheaply with a cost of credit between 6 and 9%.

It is in my view a simple example of how imaginative small pragmatic actions can transform people’s lives. 

We will have a lot more to come.

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Income and welfare – the forgotten debate?

 

EAPN Ireland Election Blog No. 4

By Paul Ginnell, Policy Officer, EAPN Ireland

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.” Nelson Mandela

This quote opens EAPN Ireland’s recent poverty briefing and its proposals to candidates and political parties in the general election. Just as political decisions in the past have helped create poverty, the next Dáil and Government have the opportunity and responsibility to make the decisions to ensure no-one in this country has to endure the burden and the stigma of living in a situation that it not of their making.

Poverty is a very real experience for many people in Ireland. Three quarters of a million people, including around 132,000 children, are at risk of poverty and so live on less than €209 per week. Almost one in every ten people live in material deprivation, meaning that they cannot afford two of eleven basic necessities. This includes one fifth of those at work.

During the election campaign we have heard some of the candidates and parties outline what they will do to tackle poverty. There has been some important discussion of how to provide adequate services and how to support people to get decent jobs. However, we have heard little if any discussion on our social welfare levels. Our basic social welfare levels, particularly for those of working age, must be set at a level which keeps people in poverty. Of course, if someone on social welfare can get a decent job this can help them out of poverty. But the reality is that in the short or long term, there will always be people who are dependent on social welfare. This is because we will always have people who are in vulnerable situations in their lives because of caring responsibilities, a disability or illness, or because they are looking for work.CSO figures

However, for those of working age, our main social welfare rates are now €188 per week, down from €204.30 in 2009 and at a level which is €20 per week below the poverty line. According to the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice  198 of 214 urban family types which are dependent on social welfare will not be able to meet a minimum essential standard of living in 2016.

Is this really the type of society we want, where we effectively condemn hundreds of thousands of people to live a life of poverty? I don’t think so. It breaches their human rights and it shames us as a society.

So why do we allow it, and why is there no public outcry or even little public debate about it?

Maybe it is because powerful people in our society look on people who are dependent on social welfare as some sort of drain on our society, while the rest of us are living “respectable and hard-working” lives? There is a widespread view, based on very selective examples in the media but not born out in our experience, that many people who are happy to live on social welfare when they could be looking for a job. These exceptional examples are used to write off everyone else.

Maybe it is because we think that they brought poverty on themselves, so “why should we be looking after them?” Do we think this is an okay attitude for people with disabilities or carers? Or have we not matured as a nation in our understanding of those who are parenting alone?  Over 43% of those who are fully dependent on unemployment payments have been on them for less than one year and many more for less than two years. The vast majority of those who have been unemployed are doing everything in their power to get work and suffer.

Maybe it is because the right of people to have a decent income is seen as less important than the fear that if social welfare levels are too high it will not motivate people to look for work. However, does this apply to those with a disability or illness or in a caring role? If so, then for those whose situation might allow them to work, even for a few hours, it is certainly not simply about the level of their social welfare support but there are another range of issues to be addressed in terms of services and supports.

If we are talking about those on unemployment payments then there is evidence that for the majority of people social welfare rates do not replace the income people can get for work and does not disincentive them. Even for those where secondary benefits, such as housing supports, mean that income from social welfare might be close to what those people can get from work the majority of people are still motivated to get a job. Of course this also relates to the issues of decent pay from work and how people can retain secondary benefits as they move from welfare to work.

As part of this discussion we also need to understand how we can justify paying lower social welfare rates to those under 26 years of age, as a form of motivation to stay in the labour market, and €19.10 to asylum seekers in direct provision, often for many years, with no opportunity for them to get a job.

If we really want to have a discussion in this election as to what type of society we want then we need to have a mature and informed discussion about how we look after those in our society who are the most vulnerable or at a vulnerable time in their live. How we set our welfare supports so that they are adequate to keep people out of poverty and allows them to have a decent life needs to be part of the wider discussion on creating a fairer and more equal society.

For more background, see the papers from the European Minimum Income Network (an alliance led by EAPN Europe).

Within that project, there were two important Irish reports:

“… an adequate and effective minimum income system is essential for the achievement of a sustainable recovery and a more inclusive society. This is not just about the amount of money in people’s pockets but about the buying power of that money.

“We need to strengthen our minimum income scheme to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to remain active in society, reconnect to the world of work and live in dignity.  

“Inadequate minimum income schemes trap people in poverty and lead to greater social, health and economic costs for individuals and society. Inadequate schemes may help in addressing very basic needs in the short term, but they can contribute to locking people in a cycle of dependency without adequate means to access opportunities or to fully participate in society.

“Research has shown that shame accompanies poverty, and this has a disabling effect on people’s capacity to seek work and progress their lives. Austerity measures taken by Government during the crisis have had a very negative effect on those on minimum income schemes in Ireland, through more stringent means testing, changes to eligibility criteria and in some cases cuts in rates.

“Adequate and effective schemes help reduce inequality, which benefits the whole society. It is widely accepted that more equal societies are better for everyone, not just then poorest, and are more stable than more unequal societies.

“They have a high return on investment, while the cost of not investing has enormous immediate impacts for the individuals concerned and long term costs for society.

“High-level social protection systems act as ‘economic stabilisers’. Within the European Union, countries with high-level social protection systems have been best placed to resist the negative impacts of the recent crisis….”

 

The

The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice has developed the most comprehensive approach to defining a minimum essential standard of living for Ireland.

minimum essential standard of living for Ireland.

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Some issues to think about in the election – pick your area, read up and put lots of questions to canvassers

door hanger

EAPN Ireland Election Blog # 3

I was going to sit down and try to summarize some of the proposals by social inclusion and equality groups for issues to raise in the general election. Then I found that the ever-industrious Pierre Klein of ATD (All Together in Dignity) had already set up a list at http://17october.ie/ge16manifestos/.

Thank you, Pierre. Here is a version of that list (with my headings and notes added) for those who have not seen it yet:

Let me know what I’ve missed and I’ll add to them

Robin Hanan, EAPN Ireland

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A five year strategy against poverty in Ireland:

A vision for rights and inclusion at home and abroad

Priorities form the fight against poverty and inequality

Social Justice

Putting Economic, Social and Cultural Rights into the Constitution and into practice

Fighting for human rights

The rights of older people

Ending Homelessness

Children’s rights and child poverty

Childcare 

Refugees

Equality in education

Women’s rights

The Financial Transaction Tax

Service Users’ rights

Drug policy

Communities

Global justice

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Community Platform’s Four Tests for the Next Government

Community-Platform-logo

EAPN Ireland Election Blog # 2

The only thing that all sides agree on in this election is that the result, and the Programme for Government negotiated after the election,  will shape the country for at least a decade and perhaps a generation.

 

This is why so many organisations concerned with poverty and inequality have published their proposals, challenges and even ‘manifestoes’, naming the issues which they would like to see taken up in the election debates and the Programme for Government.

 

We will discuss some of these during the campaign.

 

We have already talked about the EAPN Ireland Proposals for 2016-2021 which challenges candidates and parties to spell out their plans for a five year strategy against poverty.

 

This week, the  Community Platform, a coalition of  28 of the main organisations working against poverty, agreed its Four Tests for the next Government.

 

The Platform will use these tests to assess the seriousness of the next Government in addressing the causes and consequences of poverty, social exclusion and inequality in Ireland in its Programme for Government and in its implementation over the next five years.

 

The four tests, explained in more detail here, ask:

 

1: Will the Government redistribute income towards the poorest 20% of the population?

 

2: Will the Government strengthen access to quality employment?

 

3: Will the Government restore and strengthen public services which are of particular importance to people on low income?

 

4: Will the Government support mechanisms to ensure that all areas of policy and decisions work to reduce poverty and inequality?

 

The Platform will continue to monitor these issues as the new Government emerges.

 

This paper builds on previous publications from the Community Platform, including

and the slightly  older, but still relevant

  • Paying our Way, one of the most important contributions to the debate on taxation in Ireland.

 

The members of the Community Platform are:

 

The four Tests can be accessed here.

 

Robin Hanan, EAPN Ireland

 

 

 

 

Getting ready for the election – and a free gift

door hanger

EAPN Ireland Election Blog # 1

As the parties gear up for General Election 2016, it is important to remember that this is not just a form of amusement for political enthusiasts.

 

The big question, as the country emerges from recession, is whether the parties forming the next Government, and opposition TDs holding them to account, will prioritise the resources and policies to seriously reduce poverty and inequality.

 

This Blog will be used to track the debate and proposals through the election.

  1. We will publish a series of short articles from  party spokespeople and TDs on how they plan to fight poverty
  2. We will publish articles on what needs to be done on key policy areas
  3. We will track debates, interventions etc. as the election campaign goes on.

 

Our latest publication, the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland Briefing on poverty, 2015 and proposals for 2016-2021, describes in some detail the extent of poverty in Ireland and the challenges faced by the next Government.

 

Section 5 of that publication, Towards a new anti-poverty strategy, urges

“…all parties and candidates for the next Dáil to commit to a new five year strategy against poverty and social exclusion covering the term of the next Dáil, to replace the current National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (2007-2016).”

 

It explains the elements of:

  • A comprehensive strategy
  • A strategy for a decent income
  • A strategy for quality jobs
  • A strategy for quality services:
  • A strategy to end homelessness and ensure housing for all
  • A strategy based on human rights, dignity and equality
  • A strategy which we can afford “… a five-year plan to bring overall Irish taxation levels from their current 30% of GDP to the EU average, which is currently 40% of GDP.

 

We would encourage you to use read this paper before talking to canvassers and to actively raise the issue of a strong five-year programme to fight poverty with candidates and parties.

 

And for those of you who have read this far, here is you free gift – Your free election survival kit.  Use and enjoy!


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