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Consultation on the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion - it’s all in the framing.
The consultation on the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2018 to 2021 has been released by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection with a closing date of 16th March 2018. This consultation is open to all, organisations and individuals, and while Social Justice Ireland encourages all to participate, we are concerned that the questions are framed in such a way as to allow Government to abdicate their responsibilities to the most vulnerable.
This is particularly striking in the following sections:
The timeframe for the proposed National Action Plan (the Plan) has been reduced from 10 years to four on the basis that this both aligns the Plan with the Programme for a Partnership Government and could help ensure that any actions set out in the Plan would be achievable and ‘less vulnerable to national and international fluctuations’. Essentially, by reducing the timeframe on this basis, the Government admits that it lacks sufficient foresight to proof the Plan against these fluctuations and to implement cross-sectoral policies to ensure any such fluctuations would cause minimum disruption. While tangible results could be achieved within the four-year timeframe, in order for those results to be meaningful, the underpinning policies need to provide for a series of actions aimed at tackling both the causes and effects of social inclusion and poverty.
The stated aim of enabling the most disadvantaged to fully participate in society, including having a job, is a worthwhile one. Social Justice Ireland supports the development of the three components of the plan for active inclusion – adequate minimum income, inclusive labour market and access to quality services – but is immediately concerned that the framing of the question suggests that each component may be weighted in order of perceived importance. To adequately address poverty and social exclusion in Ireland, the three components must be taken as a whole and provide the basis for policy development. In addition, while inclusive labour markets are to be welcomed, there must be a recognition that work must be meaningful. There will never be full employment in Ireland and ‘work’ must be defined more broadly than just a job. A society that values all work, including work inside the home and volunteerism, is better placed to design a model of adequate minimum income for all while also providing quality services.
Perhaps the greatest indication of this Government’s inertia in tackling poverty and social inclusion is contained within the framing of this question. The Government previously committed to achieving a target of reducing the rate of consistent poverty to 4 per cent by 2016 and to 2 per cent by 2020. The consistent poverty rate in 2016 stood at 8.3 per cent – over double the target amount. Rather than reaffirming its commitment to reducing consistent poverty to 2 per cent by 2020, or even 2021 in line with the timeframe of the Plan, the proposal instead is to double the target to 4 per cent by 2020 on the basis that the original target may be ‘seen as being very ambitious and unlikely to be achieved’. When was ambition a bad thing? To this Government, it seems, only in the context of reducing the rate of poverty. By framing the question of whether it is better to have an achievable (higher) target or an unachievable (current) one, Government is directing the response away from the core of the issue, and its own commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating poverty in its entirety.
Notwithstanding the difficulties with how this consultation is framed, Social Justice Ireland encourages every person and organisation to respond to it, to use the open text boxes to maximum effect and to demand that the issues of poverty and social inclusion are given the focus and resources they so badly need. Click here to input to the consultation on the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2018 to 2021