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The current crisis has highlighted serious issues with income inequality, job precarity and low pay.  The Irish Government introduced a COVID-19 unemployment and illness payment of €350 per week and an income subsidy of 70 to 85 per cent for affected businesses to continue to employ staff who cannot work from home but are not at work as part of the “essential services”.

Social Justice Ireland believes that the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in Ireland would go a long way to supporting the right of everyone to have a decent income.  But how might it be paid for?  And how could it be implemented?

Fundamental Human Rights are enshrined in our Constitution and detailed in our laws.  At a time of crisis, emergency powers can be a necessary tool to ensure that society stays safe and that decisions can be made quickly to respond to emerging issues.  However, the two are not mutually exclusive.  Emergency powers must be proportionate, and be interpreted in the interest of human rights and the common good.  They should also be time-limited to ensure that, once the crisis passes, these exceptional powers that, even necessarily, impact on our fundamental freedoms are revoked. 

This legislation introducing emergency powers to respond to COVID-19 confers wide-ranging powers on Government and State operators at a significant cost to the Exchequer.  Here we provide a brief overview of what they are and what they are expected to cost.

UN Independent Expert Bohoslavsky has called for a human rights-based response to the current pandemic, asserting that austerity cannot be an option and that there must be an immediate emergency response for the vulnerable (including an emergency basic income, housing and essential services). Economic policies and entitlements must be consistent with public health and human rights and there should be some reflief of both private and sovereign debt. Fiscal policies should finance social justice, and the opportunity for a real global green change should not be missed.

COVID-19 is causing people to look at how we have structured our society, and reimagine how things could be. Basic Income and Universal Basic Services are complementary policies, essential to ensuring that everyone in society has sufficient income and sufficient access to public services to live life with dignity and experience living standards expected in a first world country.

A lack of social housing is putting pressure on almost 69,000 households on the official waiting lists, and forcing an additional 40,000-50,000 households into precarious private tenancies and over 10,000 people into homelessness.  Social distancing is difficult for overcrowded households with multiple generations under one roof, and simply impossible for those living in emergency accommodation, Direct Provision and refuges for domestic abuse.  Ireland needs more social housing.  However, the latest data released by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government show a continued reliance on private rented subsidies.

It is important that the developed world do what it can to assist poorer countries in combatting this crisis. First and foremost, this must involve a deal on current levels of sovereign debt in the Global South. Social Justice Ireland supports the call for the permanent cancellation of all external debt payments due from developing countries in 2020, with no accrual of interest or charges or other penalties, and the provision of additional emergency finance that does not create more debt.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact across all society.  We are all stakeholders in this crisis, and a whole-stakeholder approach to addressing it is urgently required. At a national level a new structure for Social Dialogue is required where issues may be discussed in a deliberative manner. Any proposal for Social Dialogue should involve Government, trade unions and employers, the community and voluntary sector, as well as farmers and environmental groups. Any structure for Social Dialogue that excludes any of these groups would be a recipe for ensuring that most of Ireland’s resources would be captured by those participating in the discussion. Such an approach would simply lead to deepening divisions and growing inequality in Ireland at a time when the needs of society, the economy and the environment require that we come together.

Despite the inevitable economic aftermath of the current pandemic, the Government of the 33rd Dáil can make significant inroads into the challenges Ireland faces over the next five years. The next Programme for Government must deliver on five key areas: a vibrant economy, decent services and infrastructure, just taxation, good governance and sustainability. 

The COVID-19 crisis will impose its heaviest tolls on the most vulnerable. It is understandable that national leaders are focused on tackling this crisis in their own backyards, but countries must find the space for supporting other nations too, if humanity is to successfully defeat this disease. It is therefore incumbent on rich world countries to help poorer countries. It is also in rich countries’ interests to think and act globally as well as locally.

Education systems across the world are being impacted by COVID-19. This disruption will impact the livelihoods of individuals, and the prospects of their communities.  As education systems move to online platforms in the short to medium term, it is vital that all steps are taken to avoid deepening educational and social inequality as a result.