People Deserve Better from Government
Posted on May 20, 2016 at 02:27 PM
The new government may fall short on numbers, but it cannot afford to fall short on ambition.
Their ambition should be as big and bold as that which inspired the revolutionary generation of men and women we are now commemorating.
Too many lives have been scarred over recent years; too high a price paid by working people – and those denied work – for a crisis not of their making.
There is no need for any person in this country to be homeless; no need for people to struggle on poverty wages; for patients to be stripped of all dignity on hospital trolleys; for youth to be ignored and denied opportunity; for the elderly to live in fear of bills they cannot pay.
The citizens of this country deserve much better.
The hallmark of a decent society is not the absence of social deficits, but one in which they are treated as a stain on the collective character and tackled accordingly. It is about choices.
The government now has an opportunity to rebuild and repair.
Work & Pay
The Living Wage must become the standard for pay across the economy. It should not fall to the state to subsidise low wage employers through the social welfare system, as happens now.
The hourly rate of the Minimum Wage (€9.15 per hour) should rise to the rate of the Living Wage (€11.50) over the lifetime of the current Low Pay Commission, which runs until 2018.
The multiplicity of pay scales in the public sector for people doing the same job is wrong, unsustainable and must be addressed.
The right to collective bargaining across all sectors must be upheld – including for freelance workers, who are denied this right.
The Employer-Labour Conference should be re-established in a format more fitting to the modern era: this is not the resurrection of social partnership, but the creation of a forum whose role would be the resolution of workplace issues and disputes.
Bogus self-employment costs the state hundreds of millions in lost taxes, as Congress revealed last year. The practice must be finally outlawed.
Public procurement directives from the EU should be transposed in manner that uphold high standards of employment and not to facilitate a lowering of standards, as seen in the current 999 Emergency Operators dispute.
Education & Health
An accessible and inclusive public education system is a prerequisite for an equal society. Since 2005 student numbers have increased by almost one fifth, while spend per pupil has risen just 3.7%.
As part of a long-term plan, funding for education should be set at the equivalent of 7% of GDP and provided through a progressive taxation system.
Our health system is broken and profoundly unequal. Contrary to the scare stories, we do not have near the highest health spend in the OECD, but rank 14th by reference to percentage of GDP spend, according to the CSO. Our goal is the creation of a universal, accountable, single-tier health service with an annual budget set at 10% of GDP, as a minimum.
Housing & Homelessness
The new government should undertake to deliver the biggest housing programme in the history of the state, aiming to solve this crisis by 2019 - the centenary of the first Dáil and the Democratic Programme.
Land and vacant houses should be acquired through Compulsory Purchase Order and a ‘development surcharge’ applied to undeveloped land zoned for housing, with the income ring-fenced for homelessness.
Our pension system is dysfunctional and needs urgent overhaul. This is a critical social issue, with hundreds of thousands facing old age poverty because of bad regulation, poor oversight and lack of planning.
It can only be remedied by the establishment of a National Superannuation Fund with contributions from employers, workers and government that are mandatory for those workers and employers not in a work pension scheme.
The raising of pension age eligibility is happening faster and going further in Ireland than in any other EU country. The pension age should not be extended to 68 years unless it is done as part of an EU-wide initiative.
We have contrived to create the worst of all worlds: some of the most expensive childcare in Europe provided by low paid staff with poor career progression, as a Congress report highlighted.
Our spend is among the lowest in the EU, at 0.2% of GDP. The new government should raise this - over 10 years - to the UNICEF recommended benchmark of 1% of GDP. Given that employers will benefit substantially, their rate of PRSI should rise to help fund this.
Finally, it is worth noting that many of the problems in the water sector might have been avoided if a trade union proposal on a referendum to retain the system in public ownership had been taken up earlier.
That referendum should proceed with urgency, the current system of charges must be abolished and employment protected, while an alternative funding model is developed.
The real barrier to the creation of a better society is poverty of ambition. In this centenary year, we need to shape a new Republic of Equality.