Pavee Point asked us to provide a brief response to the report at the launch yesterday, here is the text of that response:
One of TASC’s main roles is to analysis Government budgets and to make alternative policy proposals. We also focus on transparency and democracy. This report, published today by Pavee Point, has relevance for all those issues.
After five years of austerity policies, we should not be easily shocked. However, the details and figures contained in this report are extremely stark and tell a story that exceeds in its bleakness, many of the reports we have been hearing since the crisis began.
Where government spending has been cut by 4.3 per cent, the voluntary and community sector is seeing a yearly cut of 8-10 per cent. Cuts of this level have a devastating effect on the communities these programmes and organisations serve.
However, cuts in the magnitude of 86 per cent in Traveller education and 85 per cent in Traveller accommodation, 63 per cent in Traveller organisations over the same period far outstrip those made in other areas and it is difficult to see an explanation for this level of cuts focused on a single community other than that of marginalisation and exclusion.
In drawing together these figures and presenting a picture of cuts over five years, this report has made it possible to view a more comprehensive and honest picture of how the Traveller Community has been disproportionally affected by Government policy.
However, as the report itself outlines, the compilation and analysis of these figures was a difficult task. The budgetary process and the lack of sufficient information and data released by Government hampers contemporary research and analysis into Government spending and outcomes.
Even by Ireland’s standards, Budget 2013 was backwards step in terms of budget transparency, with some departments, such as Justice and Equality, Environment, Community and Local Government and Education and Skills providing a weaker level of detail, or spending under subheadings than the previous year.
We had to wait months until the revised estimates gave greater information, by which time, most of the budget measures have been passed and the media debate had moved on. This makes it very difficult for civil society, communities and citizens to engage and mobilise on decisions which affect them.
As the report further demonstrates, much of the support available to the Traveller community comes by way of supports available to disadvantaged communities and is not Traveller specific. This means that again, it is difficult to assess the level of support accessed by the Traveller community and therefore the level of cuts suffered by it.
In 2013 there should be no excuse for the poor level of statistics in relation to Traveller participation and outcomes in the education sector and the monitoring of the consequences of the withdrawal of services as outlined in the report.
The current Programme for Government agreed by Fine Gael and Labour contains a strong commitment to openness and transparency. Not least, on page twenty three, the pledge that “We will open up the Budget process to the full glare of public scrutiny in a way that restores confidence and stability by exposing and cutting failing programmes and pork barrel politics.”
However, confidence and stability also comes from debating and understanding the rationale, and possible consequences of budgetary decisions.
A proper system of equality budgeting would assist in this task.
One of the consequences of the closed nature of budgetary decision-making over the past few years is that budgets are passed in a vacuum, where the multiplicity of impacts on certain groups in society is not adequately considered or debated.
If you decide to target secondary benefits for example, there is a good chance that those who are most dependent on social transfers will suffer the most.
This report demonstrates the cumulative effects of decisions made across different departments on one such group. Budgets should be examined for the cumulative effects on specific groups, including Travellers, across departments and on a multi-annual basis, rather than lurching from year to year.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Government policy during the crisis is that it threatens to roll back progress made in the preceding years. Progress, as stated in the report, which was hard fought and hard won.
The Government’s main task during this crisis, as articulated by the Government (previous and current) itself, the media and our European partners is to reduce the deficit and return to growth.
However, disinvestment in Traveller services and facilities, in particular, education and accommodation, is a false economy. A return to growth demands investment, in particular in education and in capital projects.
It is not clear what is to be gained in the long-run by further marginalising a community or disinvesting in its future.
Over the past number of years, many organisations and groups (e.g. TASC, SJI etc.), have provided alternative policies for closing the deficit, ones that would not increase inequality.
There is no need for any group in our society to bear the disproportional impacts of cuts that the Traveller community has, these are political choices, not economic ones.