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Govt’s focus is on business interests chides SJI

By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 December, 2013

Social Justice IrelandSocial Justice Ireland has reacted negatively to the Government’s Medium-Term Economic Strategy describing it as a “lop-sided” strategy which fails to provide a sustainable policy framework.

In a statement on Tuesday, Director of Social Justice Ireland, Dr Seán Healy, accused the strategy of failing to provide an acceptable guiding vision.

He said the strategy, which was launched on Tuesday was “disappointing”.

The Marist priest accused the Government of being focused “almost exclusively on business and business interests.”

“Social Justice Ireland believes its guiding vision should envisage an Ireland where everyone would have what they require to live life with dignity and to fulfil their full potential.”

This, he suggested, would include sufficient income, access to services they need and active inclusion in a genuinely participatory, democratic and sustainable society.

In her response to the strategy, Michelle Murphy, Research and Policy Analyst with Social Justice Ireland, commented, “At its core the Strategy fails to recognise the essentially complementary nature of economic and social development – two sides of the one reality.”

She said economic development “is essential” to provide the resources necessary for social development.

Social development, in turn, is essential because there can be no lasting economic development of any substance without the provision of social services and infrastructure.

“All one has to do is reflect on the importance of a good education system for the development of a hi-tech, hi-spec, smart economy,” Michelle Murphy said.

The independent think tank and justice advocacy group welcomed:

·         The fact that Government has produced a Strategy.

·         The commitment to have a Comprehensive Review of Expenditure before Budget 2015.

·         The recognition that spatial policy development must support the delivery of efficient public transport.

However, Social Justice Ireland expressed disappointment that:

·         The Strategy foresees more than 190,000 people unemployed in 2020 compared to 101,000 in 2007.The Live Register numbers will be substantially higher than that.

·         Full employment is defined as “approximately 5 to 6 per cent”. This is a very worrying re-definition of full employment.

·         The OECD recommendation on introducing a universal basic pension scheme is ignored.

Dr Healy said it was untrue to claim, as the Strategy does, that “social cohesion has remained strong” and that “the fiscal adjustment has been achieved as fairly as possible”. 

“The crisis of recent years has produced a fractured society, a weak economy, persistently high unemployment and emigration,” he said.

He continued, “Recent studies have shown that the poorest ten per cent of the population lost more than 18% of real disposable income compared to 11% loss among the richest 10% since the crash of 2008. The situation would be worse if cuts in services and increased charges are included in calculations.”

According to SJI, Government budgets in those years saw the richest 10% take the biggest hit but the poorest take the second biggest hit.

The gap between low and middle-income Ireland on the one hand and the rich on the other hand has widened dramatically since the crash.

This is a major challenge to social cohesion SJI said and added that the new strategy proposes nothing to rectify this situation.

“Ireland badly needs a guiding vision and a viable policy framework that would secure both solidarity and sustainable recovery in the decade ahead. This Medium Term Economic Strategy 2020 provides neither,” Dr Healy warned.

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