4th Principle: Defend public services in health, education, welfare and housing

Slí Eile26/11/2009

Slí Eile: In recent previous blogs I have suggested a number of high-level Principles to inform a progressive alternative to the current TINA.

Here is a fourth principle for debate, disagreement and action.

Next to a right to a basic income, every citizen of this Republic has a right to continuing education, health services and housing – regardless of their individual incomes. Such a scandalous notion is founded on human rights and the capabilities of societies endowed as we are with rich resources of human skill, community, institutions and physical capital. The notion of a right to a basic income or consumption of public service goods flies in the face of conventional wisdom which dictates (to borrow a McCarthy phrase) that ‘when the harvest fails the elders must take a cut in their allowance’. In other words, the conventional wisdom says that fairness or human rights is not the issue – it is down to ‘what we can afford’ and presently we cannot afford 2008 spending levels at 2003 levels of revenue flow. In this way of looking at things ‘what we can afford’ is a relatively fixed quantum determined – ultimately - by conditions in world export markets, the EXISTING DISTRIBUTION OF INCOME AND WEALTH (which is always a datum and not something to question) along with ‘market sentiment’ (be afraid you plebs !) and the gentlemen from the Ministry otherwise known as OECD, IMF and EU who have the poor to advise and punish – especially the latter two.

The pre-modern notion before the modern welfare state was founded stressed family, charitable societies and community should pick up most of all of the cost when harvests, health and employment fail. Well in theory, perhaps, but not in practice because not since in the real world families and communities don’t have the same access to the harvest.

In many ways, Ireland is bankrupt politically, morally and institutionally but it is not bankrupt in terms of its skills and communities. Even if national income (which is only one limited measure of human progress and well-being) were to decline by much more than is expected this year and next (plus 12% from peak Output in 2007), we can still continue to provide at least the current level of public service to citizens – if we chose to raise taxes through closing off specific reliefs, widening the tax base and increasing effective rates on capital gains, high salaries income and windfall profits in specific sectors. Cuts in the quality and quantity of public services in key areas would represent a devastating and unwarranted attack on social infrastructure – which as matters stood before the recession – was and is hugely inadequate. We risk undermining the very conditions for future growth in prosperity by failing to invest in a healthy and well-educated society for your children.

Public sector workers should be protesting not just over pay, jobs and pensions but together with private sector workers should all join together to protest over education, health and social welfare because at the end of the day we will know sickness eventually, vulnerability and the learning needs of a new generation. Consumers and producers need each others in public and private sectors to re-start the economy. And we are more than just consumers and producers. We are citizens of Republic meant to be founded on principles of solidarity and defence of the weakest.

Yes, we can create a more dignified society and one that is more just, caring and equitable founded on principles of democracy and genuine respect for human rights. The unrealistic ones are those who constrain choices to the Iron Law of the Market and imagine no alternatives. Lets shake off the pessimism, divisiveness and apathy engendered by the illusions of such an Iron Law.

Posted in: Politics

Tagged with: publicservices


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