When Tony was first elected in 1982, he restored the faith in politics that many people had lost. Since the recession began that faith has definitely been tested many times over.
This post is a simple post. It is about the responsibilities that a Government has, regardless of whether they realise it or not. Many of the following points below are from my Spring Economic Dáil contribution.
The Irish people are still paying for the mistakes the bankers and the bailout bestowed upon them. They are paying through USC, Mortgage rates, Property Tax and their wages. We have the increasing costs, and the increasing number of bills. Irish Water needs no introduction. The Governments central argument to the setting up of it was to get it off the books, even that didn’t go to plan. What is their argument for it now? My message is simple, many people cannot afford to pay another bill.
The effects of the recession, including cuts, have certainly been felt in my constituency. For many months, we have had a major battle over community development programmes for the most marginalised. We have also seen the effect of cuts to community policing resulting in open drug dealing on so many streets in the north inner city.
The state of the health care in this country also needs no introduction. As they say, a society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members. Whatever about able-bodied people weathering a recession, there is one group that finds it extremely difficult. They are the people with physical or mental disabilities, or both. They should not have suffered in this way.
There is a correlation between austerity and its associated cutbacks and mental health issues. However, in times of austerity we see increasing demands on mental health services. The cuts in the funding of services has led to an increased incidence of mental health issues. The latest figures we have show 561 more suicide deaths and 8862 more self- harm presentations to hospital in 2008–2012 than if pre-recession trends had continued.
Everybody wants to see jobs, however, creating more jobs is not the sole responsibility of a Government. Now significant segments of society must accept poor working conditions, low pay, few or no benefits, and ridiculous contracts. Now we have a working poor. Jobs are being created but they are not economically viable enough to allow people to live in dignity. The use of zero hour, dead-end contracts is a worrying trend. They need to be stopped now.
The largest number of calls coming to me every day is about housing. Rents in the private rental sector are increasing by as much €400 a month, in some cases by more. Many of them cannot pay the increases, even those in employment. There are 3,300 people in Dublin alone in emergency accommodation and the Dublin City Council housing manager states it cannot cope such is the extent of the problem. The Government has left it up to private developers to solve this problem.
The biggest scandal is the way in which children are being treated when their families become homeless. They have to live in bed and breakfast accommodation or a hotel room and rely on unhealthy food, and major issues regarding their education, physical and mental health, the lack of social events and sports facilities.
The most glaring example, however, of bad decisions is the cut to one-parent family benefit. A section of society that sufferes higher deprivation and poverty rates than the rest of the population. My biggest concern relates to the detrimental effect of this on children. I have seen figures from €108 to €140 as being the amount that some families will lose per week. How can families on very low incomes sustain that? The hardest hit will be those in part-time employment who may have to give up that work. This will increase the number of one-parent families in poverty and they will continue at the lower level in employment and education.
There is no doubt about the situation inherited from previous Governments, the crisis, the mess and the catastrophe. In all of their speeches the Government acknowledges the difficult decisions that had to be taken with significant sacrifices made by the people, some of the people. It is clear to everybody, I hope, which section of society bore the full brunt of these decisions.
As I have said in the Dáil previously some people in society would be oblivious to the fact that we were going through a recession and untouchable by the cuts made by this current Government. The cuts suffered by many are people who need assistance the most, the community sector in deprived areas have faced horrendous cuts, equally cuts to lone parents will have an impact on the worsening homeless crisis.
We have the workforce with the skills and we need to use them before they have all emigrated. We may have a problem in the future because we have insufficient training for young apprentices in construction skills. Rent supplement should never have been reduced particularly without limiting the rents landlords can impose. Many landlords will not accept rent allowance, this is blatant discrimination and should have been stopped long ago.
The Government will say that the economy and society is in a healthy state, I resent this theory. Economic prosperity does not equal a healthy society; all it is doing is facilitating the widening of the wealth gap in Ireland.