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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