EU Year Against Poverty & Social Exclusion: Social Justice Ireland Critiques the Irish Budget

Ireland’s economic miracle is over. And for those who were passed over by the Celtic Tiger, times could get even tougher.

image That’s the analysis offered by Social Justice Ireland (the organisation formerly known as the Council of Religious in Ireland – CORI), in its Policy Briefing on Poverty, released this week.

Social Justice Ireland points out that 2010 is the European Union’s Year Against Poverty and Social Exclusion, but laments that the Irish Government’s 2010 Budget is likely to increase levels of poverty in the Republic for the first time since 2001.

In the early years of the Irish economic boom, levels of relative poverty increased along with economic growth, as the gap between rich and poor became steadily wider. But specific Government policies, such as increasing welfare payments, helped the level of relative poverty in the Republic reach a record low of 13.9% in 2008. Relative poverty is defined as living on 60% of the average income.

Social Justice Ireland believes that these gains are now in danger of being reversed due to the cuts in social welfare benefits put forward in the 2010 Budget. Further, the Government has cut funding for local level, poverty-reducing initiatives carried about by voluntary and community organisations, as well as funding for the Community Development Programme (CDP).

In numerical terms, 615,000 people in the Republic struggle to achieve an acceptable standard of living. According to the Social Justice Ireland Briefing, almost one in five Irish children live in poverty. After children, the second largest group in poverty are the ‘working poor,’ about 116,000 individuals. The Briefing claims that:

‘39.6% of all households in poverty … are headed by a person with a job.’

Now, we all know the Irish economy has been battered by the recession and everyone has been told that there will have to be cuts. But it raises serious moral questions when the two largest groups of people in poverty in the Republic – children and the working poor – don’t really have access to the resources to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and lift themselves out of poverty.

What is it about the economic system and governmental policies that have allowed such a situation to develop?

Social Justice Ireland recommends addressing these problems by protecting the value of the minimum wage, making tax credits refundable, and keeping the working poor out of the ‘tax net.’

It also recommends setting a goal of ‘zero poverty’ to be achieved by 2020, and lobbying the EU to make this part of its agenda as party of the Year Against Poverty and Social Exclusion.

But the Briefing laments that:

‘The indications are that neither EU countries nor the European Commission are taking this ‘year’ seriously. It is a scandal that more than 40 years after men first walked on the moon, there are still human beings without the resources to live life with dignity.’

The work of CORI in the past years has been grounded in some of the most compelling insights from Catholic social teaching, critiquing the morality of economic systems that not only allow but often facilitate the widening of the gap between rich and poor.

Whether Social Justice Ireland’s present critique will be heard over the wounded cries of Ireland’s perishing Celtic Tiger remains to be seen.

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