BY ROISIN DE ROSA
What is going on with cutbacks in jobs in education and health? Isn't there a crisis in these sectors? What is the government doing?
When the papers are full every day of `recession looming', `government deficit to top ¤1 billion', `house prices about to collapse', `economy growth rate falling', `Celtic Tiger gone home', what does the government do? It cuts back jobs - at the very time when government should be creating them. Do McCreevey and Mary Harney know what they are doing at all?
It's long accepted, ever since Keynes wrote about the inanity of belt tightening in the slump of the 1920s, that one of the benefits of government can be to inject resources into the economy to counteract a slump. The effect of taking on more workers multiplies itself through the economy, leading to the creation of more jobs, and of course, more tax revenue. It's called `priming the pump'.
Since then, Thatcher came along with her band of anti-socials, and governments moved to forget this obvious first principle of macro economics in favour of neo-liberalism, where everything is a good reason to cut taxes and government expenditure on provision of social services. This is because the needs of the poor in the neo-liberal handbook are always dispensable - always a movable feast.
The current job cuts are particularly harebrained when it emerges that the jobs the government is planning to cut are in the crisis areas of Health, Education, particularly in the community projects that were part of redressing poverty in areas that suffered the drugs rush rather than the tiger's leap.
5,000 Government jobs to go
Last week, proudly McCreevy announced he was slimming down 4,300 jobs in government employment, and he assured the nation that he would find the other 700 by early 2004, to bring total government jobs cuts to a full 5,000.
Will the 1,000 job cuts in Education include the special needs assistants in schools, where two weeks ago the government announced the belief that up to 30% of special needs assistants were in excess of requirements. At the moment, 10,000 students at primary and secondary levels await news on their applications for special needs resources. The government just decided that these `needs' didn't really exist - though the department hadn't the resources to investigate whether they did or didn't.
Worse, why cut another 600 jobs in health, where the crisis has reached such proportions that people are asked not to come into Accident and Emergency because the service isn't there for them because the stretchers are full for the moment?
Maybe these job cuts will come from `rationalising' local `outlying' maternity services, which government promises to deliver us of - all in the name of best practice and modernising the service!
In a service of health provision stretched beyond the limits, does it really make sense to cut back 600 jobs?
But these 5,000 job cuts are only the tip of the iceberg - the tip that gets announced. Job cuts have been going on through the year, in tens and twenties, in enforcement of government intent to phase out the Jobs Initiative schemes (JI), the Social Economy projects, and cut back and reconstitute the existing 23,000 people on Community Employment schemes, which five years ago numbered 40,000 jobs.
The leaked plan which government is currently discussing for decision shortly, is to reconstitute the CE scheme workers' employment, to reduce the effective rate of pay, by calling for a greater training element in the scheme and increase the requisite hours, so that single parents will be excluded. At present, single parents on a book are able to work 19 hours, but not the 30 hours, in the new proposals.
And this comes on top of the cutback of 37% in child care provision for those who are on VTOS support for education and training allowance - people who have not had the chance to avail of educational opportunities.
Remember Mary Harney's attitude to single mothers prior to the last election - that they had babies to get an income and the chance to move out of home. They needed to move back into their homes sharpish, and her policies would `encourage' and `help' them to do so. So they may do - but at what social cost?
Economics of scheme job cuts
What's the cost benefit to the state of closing down Jobs Initiative places? Take the inner city in Dublin. There are 273 JI workers - which costs around ¤5 million to run. Closing down the JI places means 273 people move onto the live register, which will cost the state, at a conservative estimate, ¤2.3 million, and lose the state ¤643,000 in lost State tax revenue and PRSI. So the net gain, or saving to the state is less that ¤2 million.
These `savings' must be seen in the context of overrun on capital projects like LUAS, which apparently the government regards with impunity. Or they could be viewed in relation to the colossal capital gains of developers, who are allowed to freely access huge sums selling off land `for development purposes', on which they have been fortunate enough, or rich enough, to acquire planning permission. Where are the levies government can charge on these windfall gains?
But the 273 JI cuts are at huge social cost, not just to the individuals themselves, who return to the scrap heap of unemployment, but at immeasurable social cost to the community. JI workers provide essential community services which government has clearly no intention to replace. These workers provide supports to the community like meals to the elderly, sport development, Health and Safety and security, after schools programmes, social activities for older people, working with homeless people, childcare and community development.
Building social capital
These work places have enabled all those anti-poverty projects which have grown up over the past few years, through CE scheme workers and JI workers, which have initiated the key development of social capital within those communities which have suffered generations of unemployment and social economic impoverishment. Social capital has long been recognised as the very key to disadvantaged communities moving out of dependency and `charity', and being empowered to address the needs of their community themselves.
What worse government policy then to end social economy projects, which currently employ over 2,300 people, as government minister Frank Fahey is threatening to do. It is the very reverse of the anti-poverty policy, the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, to which the government has agreed over the last few years and to which they are committed through the EU.
The Social Economy Programme, which FÁS was running until government capped the programme this year, provided seed capital and wage payments over two or three years to enable start up of small local community enterprise. This is not for profit, but provides consumables or services that the local community needs. These projects are managed by those who work in them, with the express aim of benefiting the community.
Does anyone believe that the `savings' through job cuts that the government is threatening are really about money saving and not about a political agenda to move away from the progressive policies of addressing poverty and providing essential services to people equally and freely across the whole of society?
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe says the government is unaware of the fury in working class communities about these latest cuts. ``Many people are being forced from productive work back onto the dole by a government that will next turn around and condemn them as idlers,'' he said. ``People who are dependant for the quality of their lives on the schemes that are being decimated understand that this government holds working class people in contempt.''