Social Infrastructure must keep pace with population growth

Posted on Monday, 27 May 2024
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For its last Budget, Government should use windfall tax surpluses to ensure our social infrastructure keeps pace with population growth.  To date Government has failed to use years of economic growth and windfall revenues to adequately improve our social infrastructure leading to a situation where our public services and infrastructure are far below the levels that people expect.  A robust and adequately resourced social and economic infrastructure is as important as sound fiscal policy for our nation’s long-term stability and success. 


Priorities for Budget 2025

  • A minimum increase of €25 in all core social welfare rates and a commitment to benchmark social welfare rates to average earnings;
  • An additional €1.4 billion investment of windfall tax revenues via the Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund in social housing to double the ‘Housing for All’ social housing targets and move towards social housing constituting 20 per cent of the overall housing stock by 2030;
  • An additional €600m investment in Sláintecare infrastructure via the Future Ireland Funds with a focus on Enhanced Community Care;
  • A €1billion investment of windfall tax revenues via the Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund in offshore wind energy to accelerate existing plans, secure our renewable energy infrastructure and meet our climate targets;
  • A new target on a per capita basis for Ireland’s total tax take that will resource the services and infrastructure that a growing and ageing population requires and a roadmap and timeline for reaching this target.

Prioritise social investment

While the economy in Ireland has experienced record growth for many years and we are at full employment, services in areas such as housing, healthcare and public transport are far below expected standards.   The failure to provide the infrastructure to keep pace with population growth has resulted in a situation where housing has become a critical issue, and our health and education services are under enormous pressure.

Government must invest in appropriate supply, rather than an over-reliance on subsidies,  double the social housing targets in ‘Housing for All', and  invest an additional €1.4bn as a step towards achieving a social housing stock that is 20 per cent of the overall housing stock by 2030. 

Changing demographics and population growth is also putting pressure on our health and care services.  Ageing populations represent increased longevity, and this is a success story that is to be welcomed. But it must also be planned for and managed.  Significant increases in the older population means there will be increased numbers living with long-term illness or disability.  This must be planned for using an appropriate model of healthcare and care. 

Government must enhance the process of planning and investment so that the healthcare system can cope with the increase and diversity in population and the ageing of the population projected for coming decades, create a statutory entitlement to home care services and for an additional €600m investment in Sláintecare infrastructure with a focus on Enhanced Community Care to ensure ageing and caring in place as far a possible. 


Social welfare increases crucial to meeting poverty targets

Social welfare payments play a crucial role in reducing poverty. A minimum social floor means maintaining adequate levels of social welfare. Social Justice Ireland is calling on Government to increase core social welfare rates by a minimum of €25 per week in Budget 2025 and to commit to bench marking social welfare rates to average weekly earnings. 

Our recent analysis of Government cost of living measures intended to assist all households with cost of living pressures since April 2022 to April 2024 shows that while the overall picture reflects an outcome where the most assistance has been given to welfare dependent households, something we called for and have welcomed, the underlying picture remains very concerning.  Since April 2022, much of the income support received by lower income households has been in the form of temporary measures such as household energy credits and lump sum welfare payments while most of the support received by higher income households has been delivered via permanent measures such as changes to income tax.  Once the temporary measures disappear, the income effect associated with these permanent measures will remain and notably widen income divisions in Irish society. 


Managing transitions

One of the major challenges and transitions Ireland faces is meeting our climate targets and moving to sustainable society and economy.  In order to meet our energy targets, to increase our renewable energy supply and to deliver long-term sustained reductions in energy costs, Government must invest in renewable energy and in offshore wind energy projects.  This means diverting fossil fuel subsidies to support renewable energy and investing substantially to improve and upgrade our energy infrastructure.   

When it comes to planning for our energy transition, Government must be proactive, and begin to look at what policy tools it can design to allow it to target and support rural and low-income households in the coming years as policies to meet headline targets in the carbon budgets are rolled out.  This should include redesigning the fuel allowance, delinking it from heating fuels and updating and expanding eligibility criteria.

Social Dialogue

Change is here, we cannot stop it.  But we can plan for it and manage the impacts of this change across society in a way that is inclusive, constructive and positive.  In recent times we have seen the political consequences of people who feel they have been left behind by society.  Social Justice Ireland has long advocated for participation and social dialogue, involving all sectors of Irish society, to strengthen the social fabric. Ultimately only social justice and the wellbeing of everybody in our country, whether born here or newly arrived, will ensure a stable, healthy, and open society. A new social contract, underpinned by social dialogue is essential to ensure that no-one is left behind.