OECD criticises Ireland's failure to tackle most pressing social needs

Posted on Friday, 9 March 2018

A report published yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has criticised Ireland’s performance in key areas such as health and housing.

In its latest biannual report on Ireland, the think-tank noted that despite the continuing economic recovery, Ireland’s health system is ‘failing in terms of cost, patient satisfaction and waiting times’. (See chart below).

Also noted was the likelihood of increased pressures due to demographic changes over the coming 15 years. ‘Ireland does not have universal coverage for primary healthcare, contributing to poor access and high health costs for some households that cannot afford private insurance. While there is scope for further improvements in health spending efficiency, a path to providing universal coverage should be laid out.’

In the area of housing, the report asserted that ‘housing affordability is reduced by low dwelling supply in Ireland’s main cities’. It acknowledged recent policy measures seeking to improve affordability but noted that they have ‘mostly focused on the demand-side. A longer-term solution is to prioritise measures that promote dwelling supply’. The report recommended the introduction of a ‘broad-based land tax’ to promote efficient land use, particularly ‘well-located swathes of land that are underutilised and should be rezoned for residential purposes’. This is something that Social Justice Ireland has advocated for a number of years.

Several aspects of Ireland’s potential for continued economic recovery were also called into question by the report, as the OECD asserted that Brexit could reduce Irish exports by up to 20 per cent in some sectors, notably agriculture and food. Social Justice Ireland believes that the best way to steel the Irish economy against potential negative effects of Brexit is through increased investment in productive economic and social infrastructure.

Criticism of government's reaction to the current housing crisis is nothing new. In August 2017, the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland published a report warning that Ireland’s current housing crisis is so severe that it could damage Ireland’s competitiveness. While there are certainly other, more socially worthy, reasons for investing in Ireland’s productive social and economic infrastructure, there is perhaps no clearer or more obvious example of the need for large-scale government investment to maintain Ireland’s medium-to-long-term growth potential, given the prevailing economic circumstances.

Well-targeted social investment would create employment and also enhance growth, which would contribute to robust public finances, reducing unemployment, and increasing tax returns, helping to secure the well-being of all. It is difficult, if not impossible, to meet the macroeconomic goals of full employment or infrastructural maintenance and expansion, or the social goals of adequate housing, healthcare and education services, without adequate levels of investment. Social Justice Ireland continues to argue for a significant investment programme, starting with social housing.