Irish Republican News · November 21, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Tackle inequality and poverty
The following is the introduction to Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission, launched at a press conference in Buswells Hotel yesterday.


The Book of Estimates published on 13 November promises the second Budget of Cuts since the 2002 General Election. Already the Estimates themselves have hit the most vulnerable hard. This is epitomised by the miserly and dangerous restrictions on rent supplement which will penalise the homeless, the poorly housed and those on the economic margins.

More stealth taxes have been imposed. Health charges have gone up for the second year in a row and hardest hit are those whose income is just above the limit for medical card qualification - the very people to whom Fianna Fail promised to extend medical card cover before the General Election.

Since the Fianna Fail/PD Coalition was elected in 1997, relative income poverty in Ireland has steadily increased. People living on under 50% of the average income are defined as living in poverty. In 1997, 18.1% of the population was below the poverty line. By 2000 it had risen to 20.9%. Government policy has increased inequality in Irish society.

This is the background to Budget 2004. Instead of using unprecedented resources to redistribute wealth and close the poverty gap this Government has worsened social and economic inequality in every Budget since 1997. Now cuts are being imposed and it is the weakest who are targeted.

In times of economic contraction it is tempting for Governments to cut spending in areas perceived to have less impact on day-to-day survival. It is also tempting for the public to accept Government assertions that such cuts are ``necessary and unavoidable'', and that the spending cuts are only on ``non-essentials''.

But we should learn from the experience of other western industrial nations who have experienced economic decline or recession and whose governments have advocated a fiscal strategy similar to that proposed by the Fianna Fail-PD coalition since the boom ended. The cuts under Thatcher, Reagan and their successors ultimately did not target ``non-essentials'' at all -- they targeted worthwhile ``public goods'' necessary to a decent quality of life beyond mere survival. In Britain, America, and elsewhere, such cuts in successive budgets have riven the social fabric and reduced many to desperate circumstances. And now Budget 2004 threatens the same. We should consider ourselves warned.

Sinn Féin believes that public goods are worth financing -- they should not be treated as expendable and thus the most convenient place to cut.

We know that particularly in the case of social spending, well managed short to medium-term investment will often yield medium to long-term savings, as other direct and indirect costs are reduced. The health service is the prime example of how cuts and underfunding which were seen as short-term have had the unintended consequence of driving up costs and significantly reducing efficiency in the longer-term. Thus ``value for money'' is complex, can only be accurately gauged in the medium to long-term, and cannot always be equated with spending less.

Sinn Féin believes the priorities in Budget 2004 must be:

* Concentration of resources on much needed improvements in health, housing, education, social welfare and public services which enhance the quality of life of all;

* Real reform of these services to ensure equality of access, and efficient and effective delivery, to a best practice standard, in order to guarantee true value for money;

* Fundamental review and reform of the tax system to achieve greater equity and increased revenue for improved services; tax reductions for the low paid only; higher taxes for the highest earners in place of stealth taxes which take no account of ability to pay.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News