Guest Blog – an Tánaiste Joan Burton, TD

EAPN Ireland Election Blog No. 9joan burton

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 third of the series, from an Tánaiste Joan Burton, leader of the Labour Party.  Labour’s Manifesto Standing up for Ireland’s Future can be read here.

The Labour Party’s focus in Government has been to build an Ireland of renewed prosperity, from the bottom up and middle out – rather than the top down. People’s economic rights are just as central as their social rights to living a complete and fulfilled life. The right to the best education we can provide. The right to a job with decent pay and conditions. The right to an affordable and secure home. The right to healthcare based on need, not wealth. The right to security of income in retirement.

Labour in Government set about building the jobs-led recovery that is now under way. Throughout it all, we prioritised protecting the most vulnerable in society to the greatest possible extent.

Other countries in similar economic difficulties slashed welfare rates. We maintained core weekly welfare rates, including the State pension. And we protected the welfare safety net when others wanted to reduce it.

Official figures show that Ireland’s welfare system is the most effective in the EU at preventing poverty. The economic recovery is now under way and our mission is to ensure that recovery reaches everyone in society. We want to secure the recovery, to spread the benefits, and do so in a fair way that raises living standards and lowers inequality.

We have increased the minimum wage by 20% to €9.15 per hour – about 48.5% of the estimated median wage.

A challenging but achievable target would be to reach 60% of the median wage by 2021.

This would imply a Minimum Wage of €11.30 in 2015 values.

In achieving that, we will be transforming the Minimum Wage into a Living Wage, and making sure that work pays for all women.

We secured the funding necessary to introduce a second year of free pre-school from next September, as well as a further increase to Child Benefit.

And we will do much more if re-elected – we will substantially increase paid parental leave, and make childcare affordable for all families.

Taken together, these measures will increase pay for women, and provide all women with the childcare necessary to allow them to participate in the workforce and benefit from that increased pay.

We are determined to eradicate child poverty. We want to continue the progress made in recent years.

The initiatives we are proposing will complement our proposals to introduce free GP care for all, to expand access to school meals, to introduce paid parental leave and high quality, affordable childcare, to eliminate long-term homelessness and to increase the minimum wage. Taken together, these measures will significantly reduce the number of children and young people living in poverty by 2021.

We will:

  • Put the elimination of child poverty at the centre of government policy
  • Provide the poorest schools with the staffing and funding needed to tackle educational disadvantage
  • Continue to expand the school meals programme so that no child goes hungry in school
  • Implement early intervention initiatives aimed at children and families in disadvantaged communities
  • Increase child benefit from €140 to €155 a month by 2021

In government, we have funded the introduction of Area-Based Childcare (ABC) programmes in areas of concentrated disadvantage such as Limerick, Ballymun and Tallaght. Rates of early school leaving have dropped below 10% for the first time. And we have increased funding for school meals. We will build on this work to end child poverty.

We will produce a new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion in 2017, with the eradication of child poverty the primary objective of that action plan. We will establish a new body – the End Child Poverty Commission to work to eradicate child poverty to make sure that we at least halve child poverty by 2021.

In government, we have ensured that early school leaving has fallen below 10% for the first time. We have reformed the Junior Cert to put an end to young disadvantaged boys, in particular, disengaging from school. We have provided State funding to iScoil for those who have disengaged from school. And we have increased funding for school meals.

We will increase the school leaving age to 17 to end a situation where one in ten drop out before getting a Leaving Cert. We will continue funding the ABC programmes and iScoil, and restore funding of School Completion Programmes to 2011 levels, and bring their governance and funding back within the education sector. Labour will rapidly expand the school meals programme, to ensure that no child goes hungry in school. We will identify the poorest schools in the country, in both urban and rural areas, and provide them with the funding, staffing and supports necessary to tackle deeply entrenched levels of disadvantage.

A progressive vision based on vindicating people’s economic rights can – and will – lower inequality. That is Labour’s vision – and the recovery is now giving us the leeway to increase welfare payments in targeted areas such as Child Benefit and the Christmas Bonus, reduce taxes for low and middle-income workers, invest in public services such as free GP care for young children, and provide more teachers and facilities for our schools.

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