Wednesday, 17 June 2009

How much can Ireland inc afford to pay those on welfare?

Slí Eile: Irish Times journalist, Sarah Carey, writing on 17 June ('State's own welfare must determine level of payments') has taken up the welfare issue - again. Climbing down from an earlier assertion, in March, that Irish welfare payments were the highest in Europe, she now offers an apology for misleading people. She seems to shift some of the blame on to the Department of Finance for feeding her incorrect information in a briefing. It would appear that the story - like what Churchill once said about a untruth - has gone half ways round the world with Ministerial pronouncements yet again recently on the matter in the Oireachtas - only in the last two weeks.

Michael Taft has dealt with the issue over on Irish Left Review.

However, the issue in the most recent column by Carey is not over the facts about Irish social welfare and how it compares with the rest of the EU (in fact typical payments to a single unemployed person are decidedly bottom of the table and payments to a family with children etc are average in a list of EU15 countries) but rather the amazing assertion that we simply cannot afford present levels of payments and should not seek to match other State welfare systems. Oh Dear. An Béal Bocht - the poor mouth. She writes:
"We should not yearn for another state’s social system – instead we must base payments on what Ireland can afford"
But, what we can afford is a function of what and who we chose to tax. With a below-average (yes, whether you measure it by GDP or GNP or GNI or an average of these ...) you get a lower-than-average take in taxes across EU countries (and that includes low-tax Latvia presently undergoing the economic horrors like its Western neo-liberal cousin). So we chose - implicitly - to spend less on social infrastructure and social protection even in good times. In hard times when we chose to bail out bankers and the banks (and goodness knows why in the case of Anglo-) we hear a chorus calling for welfare cuts. Expect a rising chorus up to the next Budget and beyond.

Sarah Carey rounds off the article as follows:
"Last year, we could afford the early childcare supplement – this year we can’t. Apparently, we can’t afford special needs assistants, but we can afford to recapitalise Anglo Irish. One person’s injustice is another’s pragmatism. The winner of the argument is quite simply the one who happens to be in power. Right now, that power lies in Merrion Street. As harsh as the current regime might seem, the imperative is to prevent that power shifting to Frankfurt or Washington DC. That has to be our focus now and yearning for some other country’s welfare system is a waste of time"
Rather - we should say that the winner of the argument is the side that seeks the common good within available resources with a preferential option for those most vulnerable. It is about morality not just power and stylised, selective facts. (At least Sarah Carey has retracted the earlier assertions.)


Tomaltach said...

Credit where it's due: she made a fairly comprehensive retraction and apolologised. It wasn't half hearted either in the sense that she could have just said 'the assertion was wrong', but she showed how wrong as well.

Donagh said...

Tomaltach, you must be the most generous commenter in the EU.

Tomaltach said...

Well, Donagh, I think many commentators who pontificate from high perches such as the IT would never turn around and make an admission like this. On being shown they were wrong they'd simply ignore the matter or make a two line admission that they might not have been entirely correct. Carey spent considerable space in her piece showing that she was wrong and quoting some sources to back it and highlighting that there is a well managed misinformation about this issue. This is not to say that I agree with her final analysis not to mention her politics in general. I don't think there's much doubt that she would back welfare cuts in the morning, but that wasn't my point. She was humble enough to turn her original article on its head.

Joe Curran said...

"My bad, as they say."

This is a "fairly comprehenive" retraction and apology? No, it's a glib work-around, delivered three months late.

"I'm rather pleased I made the mistake."

Yes, indeed. Misleading readers has an upside.

"One person's injustice is another person's pragmatism. The winner of the argument is quite simply the one who happens to be in power."

The age old justification of the lapdogs of power. That sleazy argument could be applied to any injustice, from shooting Iranian civilians to rape.

Donagh said...

Tomaltach, you have to ask yourself why she made the admission. In case you didn't know, I went to some length to discover the source of her information. It wasn't entirely a wasted effort. However, it's wrong to follow up that admission with the argument that we have to do with Merrion Street say or else we'll be the hands of the IMF who will make more considerable cuts to public expenditure. That's just scare-mongering nonsense - and propaganda to boot!

Tomaltach said...

We know what political stable Carey comes from. From what I used to see on her blog, when she writes light pieces about domestic life or the trivia of life, she does it quite well actually. But her political commentary is hardly known for its rigour or its penetrating analysis. When she turns to 'big issues' she is biased, often facetious, arrogant, and usually, as in the case of the welfare rates, plain wrong.

She ran with facts that were wrong but suited her world view. Then she discovered they were wrong and admitted it. But she is not going to change her world view. Nor will her analysis of the economic crisis become any more credible.

Donagh said...

Tomaltach, I agree with you. Perhaps because of my own worldview I am not willing to give her credit for the admission. However, she didn't run with 'facts that were wrong'. She ran with political opinion and referred to it as facts. I realise that her analysis of the economic crisis is not very credible - she is not writing on the business pages after all.