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National Social Monitor shows need for longer-term focus in key policy areas
By 2025 the number of people living in Ireland aged over 85 years will have doubled. One clear implication of this will be additional demand for healthcare services and facilities. This is just one of many examples highlighted in Social Justice Ireland's National Social Monitor 2014 which highlight the need for longer-term planning by Government if Ireland is to promote the common good and ensure the wellbeing of its growing population.
A further example can be seen in the area of employment where over 146,500 people are still long-term unemployed which is 57.6% of total unemployment compared with 58.2% a year earlier. Fewer than 32,000 were long-term unemployed in 2007. The need for much greater action on this issue is clear when compared to the 31,600 additional jobs created in the past year.
In this 2014 National Social Monitor, Social Justice Ireland outlines the present situation on a range of policy issues that impact on people's well-being. The issues analysed include healthcare, education, housing, taxation, sustainability, rural development and income distribution. All of these issues have implications for the well-being of all of Ireland's population and for Irish society as a whole.
Poverty in rural Ireland, for example, is 4.5 percentage points higher than in urban Ireland. Government urgently needs to develop a new long-term national rural strategy and ensure a rural and regional employment strategy is part of the Action Plan for Jobs.
The Monitor proposes a guiding vision for Irish society based on the values of human dignity, equality, human rights, solidarity, sustainability and the pursuit of the common good. The indicators presented in the Monitor show that Ireland has a long way to go to achieve such a vision.
The Monitor argues that "building such a society is possible. On the one hand it requires recognition of the fact that a future based on the primacy of the market is not likely to be either just or fair. On the other hand it requires that priority be given to the common good.”
National Social Monitor 2014 Executive Summary
The main findings of the National Social Monitor 2014 include the following:
- By 2025 the number of people living in Ireland aged over 85 years will have doubled. One clear implication of this will be additional demand for healthcare services and facilities
- In the context of our past mistakes it is important that Ireland begins to plan for this additional demand and begins to train staff and construct the needed facilities.
- Supports that enable people to live at home need to be part of a broader integrated approach that ensures appropriate access to acute services when required.
- To achieve this, the specific deficits in infrastructure that exist across the country need to be addressed urgently. There should be an emphasis on replacement and/or refurbishment of facilities.
- The economies of rural areas have become increasingly dependent on welfare transfers, with the 'at risk of poverty' rate in rural areas being 4.5 percentage points higher than that of urban areas in 2012.
- It is clear that in order to diversify the rural economy, Ireland needs to move from agricultural development to rural development, from maritime development to supporting coastal communities and to support small, local, sustainable and indigenous enterprises, farming and fishing.
- Social Justice Ireland proposes that Government develop a new national rural strategy and ensure a rural and regional employment strategy is part of the Action Plan for Jobs.
- The roll-out of high speed broadband in rural areas must be a priority for Government.
- Government must support young people to remain in their communities and implement policies to ensure rural areas can adapt to a changing demographic profile in the longer-term.
Job Creation and Employment:
- Over the seven years from 2007-2013 the labour force decreased by just over 4 per cent, participation rates dropped, full-time employment fell by almost 18 per cent, representing some 312,000 jobs, while part-time employment increased by almost 17 per cent.
- The number of long-term unemployed was less than 32,000 in 2007 and has increased since, reaching 155,500 at the end of 2013.
- The transition to these high levels since 2007 has been rapid. The experience of the 1980s showed the dangers and long-lasting implications of an unemployment crisis characterised by high long-term unemployment rates.
- It remains a major policy failure that Ireland's level of long-term unemployment has been allowed to increase so rapidly in recent years. Furthermore, it is of serious concern that to date Government policy has given limited attention to the issue.
- The scale of the evolving long-term unemployment should be recognised and given appropriate and adequate attention. Government should adopt targeted policies to address the problem.
- The importance of investment in education is widely acknowledged and the rewards for both individuals and the state are clear.
- Ireland spends 0.1 per cent of GDP on pre-primary education compared with the OECD average of 0.5 per cent.
- The evidence shows that early childhood education has the greatest potential to facilitate more equal educational opportunity to those students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
- The earnings premium in Ireland for those with higher education has increased by 22 percentage points since 2010. Third-level graduates in employment in Ireland earn on average 64 per cent more that those with a leaving certificate only.
- The need for housing in Ireland is currently at crisis level.
- In 2013, 89,872 households were assessed as qualified for housing support.
- The means by which social housing provision on the scale required is to be financed is of central concern and requires exploration.
- Consideration could be given to the establishment of a National Housing Authority which would be answerable to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. It could assume charge of the current stock of local authority houses and a range of other issues related to social housing.
- Since the onset of the recession the number of people in poverty in Ireland has increased by almost 120,000. Today there are more than 750,000 people living in poverty. This is a major concern.
- Income alone does not tell the whole story concerning living standards and command over resources. Since 2007 the deprivation rate, which measures the number of people forced to go without at least 2 of the 11 basic necessities examined, has more than doubled.
- There are now more than 1.2 million people (26.9 per cent of the population) experiencing deprivation at this level.
- It is important that every effort is made to reduce income inequality and to narrow the income gap between the richest ten per cent of the population and the poorest ten per cent.
- The need for a wider tax base is a lesson painfully learnt by Ireland in recent years. The narrowness of the Irish tax base resulted in almost 25 per cent of tax revenues disappearing, plunging the exchequer and the country into a series of fiscal policy crises.
- Ireland must plan to have sufficient revenue to pay for servicing the debt incurred in rescuing banks and related costs together with meeting the costs of providing services at the level people expect.
- The challenge is to broaden the tax base with the corporate sector in particular paying a fair share.
- Our eco-system is worth €2.6 billion to Ireland annually yet our biodiversity capital is decreasing rapidly.
- One way in which Government could begin to raise awareness about the value of Ireland's eco-system and biodiversity is to measure this in our national accounts.
- Promoting a sustainable economy requires that we place a value on our finite natural resources and that the interdependence of the economy, wellbeing and natural capital are recognised. This requires that natural capital and ecosystems are assigned value in our national accounting systems.
- Social Justice Ireland recommends that government commit to producing shadow national accounts which commit to measuring (amongst others) the environmental cost of economic performance and resource depletion and degradation as a cost to society.
Public Participation and Citizen Engagement:
- Each citizen should have a role and voice in how our society is governed. This should not be confined to five-yearly general elections, particularly when election debates do not provide substantive discussions on our country's future.
- The Public Participation Networks (PPN), currently being introduced in Local Authorities as part of the reform of local government will provide an opportunity for real engagement between local people and the Local Authorities across the country.
- The PPNs enable effective, ongoing engagement by local community, voluntary, social inclusion and environmental organisations in the decision-making processes of the Local Authorities.
- They enable all such organisations who are stakeholders in a particular area to be engaged on an ongoing basis with the decision-making structures that affect them.
- If this new structure is to succeed in improving participation and engagement it is imperative that (a) PPNs are rolled out as designed in every Local Authority; (b) PPNs are adequately resourced to ensure they can build appropriate capacity and maintain their independence from the Local Authorities, and (c) there is no return to the situation where the many are 'represented' by the few.