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Acceptance of the need for new social contract warmly welcomed
The decision to put a new social contract and a focus on the wellbeing of Irish people at the heart of the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael Framework for a New Programme for Government is very welcome. So too is the assertion that there is no going back to the old way of doing things. The fact that the framework recognises the need for new, credible, quality-of-life measures of individual and societal wellbeing and progress, suggest that the next Programme for Government will go beyond economic priorities and targets and take a more holistic approach in its decision-making. Such a development would be very welcome.
Our initial 15-page response to the Framework document welcomes some aspects of the Framework, raises concerns about others, and proposes a series of specific policy initiatives that would go some distance towards achieving each of the ten mission statements set out in the Framework.
Identifying the need for a vibrant economy is essential. So too is a recognition that the importance of the role of government intervention in the economy and society has never been clearer. The prioritising of housing, healthcare and climate are all welcome developments. However, if these major challenges are to be addressed effectively, major new initiatives will be required.
On housing, for example, current schemes which disproportionately benefit those who do not need assistance buying a home should be closed as soon as possible. Likewise, Ireland needs to replace the current Local Property Tax with a Site Value Tax, improve mechanisms for penalising land-hoarding, and reinstate the Windfall Gains Tax that was removed in Budget 2015. The supply of social housing will also have to increase substantially.
To address the challenges on healthcare identified in the framework, the resources required to implement the Slaintecare report within the original timeframe should be frontloaded to the greatest extent possible, and this should be made a key policy priority of the new programme for government. There should also be renewed focus on the Vision for Change mental health initiative and Government should pursue the implementation of a Statutory Homecare Scheme.
The stated aim of achieving a living wage over the lifetime of the next Government is warmly welcomed. However, the failure to acknowledge the scale of poverty, or to recognize that living a life free from the risk of poverty should form part of the new social contract, is deeply disappointing.
If the issue of climate and the new green deal is to be addressed effectively, money from the carbon tax increases should be ring-fenced to help fund a Just Transition, though it must also be acknowledged that greater funding from other sources will also be necessary. There should also be a move by the next government to shift the burden of taxation, where possible, away from productive activity and onto activity which reduces social wellbeing. In this regard, there is ample scope for pursuing measures that would enhance sustainability whilst raising revenue for government.
Likewise, the need to fully mobilise budgetary and monetary resources is a key issue. We welcome the assertion that all decisions with regard to national finances must be fair and sustainable. The framework however, does not recognise that Ireland’s total tax take must increase towards the European norm. This, of course, can be done without raising income tax, as Social Justice Ireland has been pointing out for years.
Finally, the final version of the Programme for Government should include a much greater emphasis on the need for real social dialogue – involving all stakeholders, not just some – to create consensus on what Ireland’s New Social Contract should look like, and how it is to be achieved.