Making Poverty a Priority

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The Government will never effectively tackle the crisis of poverty if other crises are always given priority

There are more than 750,000 people at-risk of poverty in Ireland and more than 320,000 of these people experience material deprivation. To my mind, and in a much more immediate way to those living in poverty, this is a serious crisis. It is also a breach of people’s fundamental rights. It appears however not to be a crisis the Government thinks worth prioritising. Or so Budget 2020 would seem to indicate.

The analysis of Budget 2020 by many organisations is that the failure to increase welfare rates, at least in line with the increased cost of living, will result in more people ending up in poverty. This is despite the Government already being well off track in achieving our national targets to reduce poverty.

While it is crucial that the Government takes immediate and urgent action to address climate change and the potential negative impact of Brexit, this must not result in a downgrading or undermining of the critical need to address poverty as an ongoing crisis. Ten years ago, during the economic crisis, the Government also failed to adequately protect people and instead introduced austerity policies which over following years drove more people deeper into poverty. Despite progress since then there are still 100,000 more people at risk of poverty now than when the crisis began.

Effectively tackling poverty and its causes takes sustained political commitment and investment in communities, services and people. This must be at a much greater level than currently exists and cannot be put to one side, or actively undermined, in order to address other crises, many of which themselves have a more negative impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

While many of the measures announced in Budget 2020 to enhance some services and provide targeted supports for many in society are welcome and important, they are inadequate to address the scale of the crisis and the causes of poverty. Much greater investment is needed in the provision of public services, such as housing, education, transport etc. and to build on positive increases to core social welfare rates in the past three years so that they are eventually adequate to allow people to live with dignity. For those in work the failure to increase the National Minimum Wage is unacceptable and it now falls €2.20 per hour behind what is needed for a Living Wage.

A still outstanding commitment in the Programme for Government is the publication of a new National Action Plan for Social inclusion strategy. There has been no strategy for two years. Given the scale of the crisis, and the harsh reality experienced by many in poverty, this is shameful.  While we know, from bitter experience, that there is often a major gap between publishing and implementing strategies, without one we have no clear understanding of what plan the Government is working to, if any, to address poverty and social exclusion. Once published though this strategy must be the driver of political and policy decisions adequate to address the level of the crisis and the structural causes of poverty. There must be no turning away from this strategy. Other crises and challenges must help shape it, and not be allowed to delay or undermine it, particularly at critical times like the Budget.

Written by Paul Ginnell, Director of EAPN Ireland.

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