In 1957 the Treaty of Rome promoted free movement of labour and equal pay for men and women. Fifty seven years on,—a lifetime,— what have the successive governments achieved in bringing equality, fairness, justice and understanding to our citizens? There has been continual plans, like the ten year National Action Social Inclusion plan for 2007 to 2016, previously the National Anti Poverty Strategy Plan 1997-2007. 2010 was the European year for combating poverty, 2007 the year for Equal Opportunity, several treaties all recommending equality and promoting the wellbeing of our citizens, yet in 2014 , the latest figures on poverty from the Central Statistics Office gives startling and troubling figures regarding the deprivation and poverty levels of the Irish people.
Social inclusion is about ensuring the marginalised and those living in poverty have a greater participation in decision making which affects their lives, allowing them an acceptable standard of living and their overall wellbeing and happiness. So now fifty seven years on is it time to once and for all call a halt to the talking shops that gobble up scarce resources with no positive outcome? According to the latest report from the CSO in May 2014 we have 1.2 million people experiencing poverty, twice the recession figure. That is a quarter of our population suffering deprivation which has doubled since 2008 and increased by up to 24.5% since 2011. What is happening in our country and who is going to call halt?
Latest figures in the report show 13% could not heat their house adequately, with 33% of children living in deprivation. Two and a half times as many people at work suffered deprivation in comparison to those in 2008. Lone parent families, people not at work through illness or disability or the unemployed were the hardest hit. The number of people at risk of poverty, living on less than 60% of the median income, has risen back to pre-recession times despite the fact that the income threshold itself dropped by 15% since 2008. There are now 756,000 people falling below this mark.
St Vincent de Paul members confirm that these experiences are being continually met on the ground by members in their daily work. A series of policies and cuts for people on low incomes have made life almost impossible for people to survive and with new taxes on water on homes is causing deep distress and a sense of hopelessness to our citizens. These stories and figures are not surprising and weasel words about protecting the poor and vulnerable sound hollow. A concerted effort must be made to put in place a programme as has been promised over and over again to eliminate poverty and distress to the people of the Irish nation.
In May 2014 the EU issued seven recommendations for Ireland covering a range of policies areas need to be addressed urgently. These included the need to increase social welfare payments to meet the actual cost of living and ensuring they examine the flaws that are pushing people into poverty by government agencies when they fail to be just in how they manage the finances allotted. VdeP members recount human stories of poverty and deprivation that they encounter on a daily basis that cannot be met by voluntary organisations. Those hardest hit by austerity are suffering and their lives filled with worry about the future and how they will manage their debts and daily living expenses. All of the cuts to welfare inflicted on the under twenty sixes have shove many into drugs and crime and depression which sometimes leads to a sense of hopelessness and suicide. The pressure on families to provide food is can be seen by the many who call on charitable organisations for food parcels and meals.
The cumulative impact of six years of austerity, cuts, increased taxes both on those at work and dependent on the state has been excrutiating and relentless. There are many more insidious affects that austerity has visited on people like mental health issues, depression, fear and insecurity.
People living in rural areas have become further isolated and lonely with the local Garda Station, Post Office and transport cut, leaving people vulnerable. Cuts to care assistants and home help all have far reaching negative affects and destroys the peace and happiness that the elderly are entitled to after a lifetime of work and service.
The programme for Government says “The government for national recovery will strive to ensure that every citizen has an effective right, free from discrimination, to contribute to the economic, cultural and social life of the nation”. Such a hypocritical statement when more people are enduring hardship beyond imagination in our country. It is time we had some commitment, honesty and understanding from our leaders who themselves have not suffered the ignominy of poverty.