How much can Ireland inc afford to pay those on welfare?

Slí Eile17/06/2009

Slí Eile: Irish Times journalist, Sarah Carey, writing on 17 June ('State's own welfare must determine level of payments') has taken up the welfare issue - again. Climbing down from an earlier assertion, in March, that Irish welfare payments were the highest in Europe, she now offers an apology for misleading people. She seems to shift some of the blame on to the Department of Finance for feeding her incorrect information in a briefing. It would appear that the story - like what Churchill once said about a untruth - has gone half ways round the world with Ministerial pronouncements yet again recently on the matter in the Oireachtas - only in the last two weeks.

Michael Taft has dealt with the issue over on Irish Left Review.

However, the issue in the most recent column by Carey is not over the facts about Irish social welfare and how it compares with the rest of the EU (in fact typical payments to a single unemployed person are decidedly bottom of the table and payments to a family with children etc are average in a list of EU15 countries) but rather the amazing assertion that we simply cannot afford present levels of payments and should not seek to match other State welfare systems. Oh Dear. An Béal Bocht - the poor mouth. She writes:
"We should not yearn for another state’s social system – instead we must base payments on what Ireland can afford"
But, what we can afford is a function of what and who we chose to tax. With a below-average (yes, whether you measure it by GDP or GNP or GNI or an average of these ...) you get a lower-than-average take in taxes across EU countries (and that includes low-tax Latvia presently undergoing the economic horrors like its Western neo-liberal cousin). So we chose - implicitly - to spend less on social infrastructure and social protection even in good times. In hard times when we chose to bail out bankers and the banks (and goodness knows why in the case of Anglo-) we hear a chorus calling for welfare cuts. Expect a rising chorus up to the next Budget and beyond.

Sarah Carey rounds off the article as follows:
"Last year, we could afford the early childcare supplement – this year we can’t. Apparently, we can’t afford special needs assistants, but we can afford to recapitalise Anglo Irish. One person’s injustice is another’s pragmatism. The winner of the argument is quite simply the one who happens to be in power. Right now, that power lies in Merrion Street. As harsh as the current regime might seem, the imperative is to prevent that power shifting to Frankfurt or Washington DC. That has to be our focus now and yearning for some other country’s welfare system is a waste of time"
Rather - we should say that the winner of the argument is the side that seeks the common good within available resources with a preferential option for those most vulnerable. It is about morality not just power and stylised, selective facts. (At least Sarah Carey has retracted the earlier assertions.)

Posted in: EuropeWelfare

Tagged with: eusocial welfare


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