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Cabinet subcommittee on social policy: Taoiseach defends record

The Taoiseach informed both Micheal Martin (FF, Cork SC) and Joe Higgins (SP, Dublin W) of the frequency of the meetings of the cabinet subcommittee on social policy (Dail Eireann, 7th November 2013, 39-51) (under the constitutional amendment for confidentiality, members may ask about the dates of meetings, but not their content or transactions – ed). The Taoiseach told them that its last meetings were on 22nd July and 22nd September.  According to Michael Martin, the fact that it had met only twice summed up the orientation of government policy and he quoted the assessment of the past three budgets by the Economic and Social Research Institute which showed that they had been weighted against the poorer sections of society.  He asked for progress on publishing the poverty impact assessment of the recent budget. 

 

The Taoiseach told him that the committee had met earlier in the year on 11th and 12th of February, 15th April and 24th June and it coordinated government policy in the areas of social inclusion, poverty reduction and social service delivery.  He drew attention to the government’s achievements in social policy, such as the protection of the basic social welfare rates.  The committee was now much more effective than it used to be, when meetings were held irregularly, without focus or a requirement to get things done.  Joe Higgins disputed this in the light of the draconian budget and the savage cuts that had happened since the last meeting.  The troika had far more input into social policy than any social committee of the cabinet.  He asked the Taoiseach to stop repeating the ‘mendacious statement’ that core rates had not been cut, especially for the 22-25 year olds.  The Taoiseach replied by quoting statistics on the improvement in employment.  Young people deserved to be engaged with properly and not seen as another statistic on the live register and told “come in and sign for your dole and then go away”: all he did was speak about austerity and cutbacks, that there was no hope and crucify people on higher salaries – they never had constructive suggestions.  The government hoped to exit the bailout programme on 15th December.

 

Michael Martin said that if the social policy committee had met more often, then the budget would not have been so unfair to older people or single parents, while discretionary medical cards would not have been withdrawn.  The taxing of maternity benefit would not have happened if there had been a strong social policy dimension informing and poverty-proofing the budget: where was the social policy committee of the cabinet when these decisions were made?  Dressing up the taking of €44 off the young unemployed as a job activation measure was dishonest, while the Taoiseach was demonizing his opponents.  Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dun Laoghaire) said that the social policy subcommittee met less frequently than the Economic Management Council, which was the committee for inflicting pain and the priorities of the troika.    Reducing the payment to jobseekers from €188 to €100 would not help find them a job but would drive them into poverty.  How does impoverishing them support them in seeking jobs?

 

The Taoiseach told them that he would ask the Minister for Social Protection to make a poverty impact report. Genuine assistance was being offered to young unemployed men and women in Intreo offices who were interviewed individually, met in groups and given access to information and the internet.  This was being done differently than the way it was before.

 

Later, during leaders’ questions, Seamus Healy (ind, Tipperary S) attacked the end of the two investment programmes targeted at disadvantaged areas, CLAR, which was terminated and RAPID, which was being wound down (Dail Eireann, Debates, 20th November 2013, 706-7).  These programmes had been devised to assist those deprived rural and urban communities by-passed by the celtic tiger.  These programmes had brought improvements in these areas, with improved quality of life and reduced anti-social behaviour.  The government, he said, was now throwing this away when unemployment in these communities was unprecedented and poverty increasing.  RAPID was down from €10m to less than €2m, down -80%, ten times the overall reduction in public spending, with RAPID coordinators either losing their jobs or redeployed.  Over 11,000 jobs had been lost in the voluntary and community sector.  He asked the Taoiseach to reinstate RAPID and CLAR.

 

The Taoiseach denied that the government had an agenda to target the poorest and most disadvantaged sections of society, but the government had a responsibility to sort out the public finances and provide jobs, recasting the economy for the benefit of all, including these communities.  RAPID was very effective and changes were now being made in local government whereby the balance of responsibility between elected representatives and the executive will see far greater accountability.  He drew attention to the value of community employment programmes, Tús, Momentum, JobBridge and JobPlus, all of which gave people an opportunity to obtain employment and upskill themselves.

 

Returning later to the issue, Seamus Healy expressed his fears that the government’s policies would continue, with another austerity budget next year of €2bn of more taxes and cuts and more austerity to follow.  Thousands of young people would continue to leave (Dail Eirerann, Debates, 20th November 2013, 784-5).  Maureen O’Sullivan (ind, Dublin C) contrasted the €100 weekly payment for the young unemployed with the €9,000 monthly expenses awarded to bankrupt developers.  Whilst some people talked about positive signs, she saw an increase in property prices, rents, homelessness, a health service in crisis.  Her own constituency homed a massive reminder of the crisis in the form of the carcass of the Anglo building.

 

Asked about equality-proofing by Sean Kyne (FG, Galway W), the Minister for Justice & Equality Alan Shatter told the Dail that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill, which he expected to publish shortly, would create a positive duty on public bodies to do so and provide support and advice to assist them (Dail Eireann, Debates, 5th November 2013, 122-123).  

> See also:

> Protecting older people from poverty in the budget: Dail Eireann, Debates, 12th November 2013, 506-7.