Eoin O Broin: Every year one of Ireland’s leading anti-poverty groups, Social Justice Ireland (formerly known as CORI Justice) produces a social and economic review.
This detailed report provides both a critique of government policy in the previous year and a set of alternatives aimed at producing a more equal society.
This year's report is entitled An Agenda for A New Ireland and was published on April 6.
Social Justice Ireland argue that a series of ‘false assumptions’ have underpinned government policy in recent years and are directly responsible for our social and economic crisis.
Politicians and senior policy makers believed that economic growth was a good in itself, and that the benefits of economic growth would automatically trickle down to all.
They also believed that a world class social and economic infrastructure could be built on a low tax base.
Alongside these ‘false assumptions’, argue Social Justice Ireland, was a belief that ‘the growing inequality and widening gaps between the better-off and the poor…were not important as everyone was gaining something.’
As a consequence of these assumptions, a series of policy mistakes was made across all government departments.
Government failed to broaden the tax base, leaving it vulnerable to the crash in the housing market, declining consumer demand and rising unemployment.
Government also failed to adequately invest in our social and economic infrastructure, in turn undermining our competitiveness and social-cohesion.
They also failed to adequately regulate key sectors of the economy such as rents, energy and banking, opening the way to spiraling costs and the collapse of the state's entire financial system.
The government's continuing adherence to these flawed policies, argue Social Justice Ireland, is making the current crisis worse.
In place of these flawed policies, Social Justice believe that ‘Ireland needs a new vision to guide policy development and decision making if it is to move beyond the current crises.’
The socio-economic review sets out four core values ‘that should underpin a guiding vision for Ireland in the years ahead’.
Firstly, it argues that every man, woman and child should have ‘what is required to live life with human dignity’, including adequate income, services and opportunities to participate in society.
Secondly, it argues that economic, social and environmental sustainability should be a ‘central motif in policy development.’
Thirdly, it argues that equality and a rights-based approach are placed at ‘the core of public policy.’
Finally, it argues for the idea of the ‘common good’ as opposed to individual advancement, should be a ‘constant goal of policy development.’
The report goes on to outline detailed policy proposals through which Social Justice Ireland believes these four core values can be achieved.
Among the proposals are:
• Raising the total tax take in a fair and equitable manner while keeping Ireland a low tax economy (i.e. below 35% of GDP)
• Investing in the states infrastructure and social services to being them up to EU-average levels
• Reforming public services to ensure it maximizes its capacity and delivers appropriate outcomes
• Addressing short-term and long-term unemployment.
• Reducing poverty with a particular focus on child poverty.
Social Justice Ireland’s 2010 socio-economic review provides a comprehensive assessment of the weaknesses in the government’s current policy agenda. It also provides a wide range of policy alternatives which it believes, if implemented, can make Ireland a more equal society.
A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.