Charity takes brave pre-budget stance by telling real-life stories
Dr Micheal Collins of the Nevin Economic Research Institute presented important evidence regarding fundamental inequalities.
For example, low incomes are much more common than people realise, as shown by the fact that 250,000 people who used to pay tiny amounts of tax were taken out of the tax net last year.
He also showed that the costs associated with going back to work mean that some people have to earn €6 an hour before gaining any benefit from paid work.
He made a strong case that it would be fairer to spread the burden of the recession by increasing taxation on wealthier citizens, rather than by further and further cuts which afflict the poor disproportionately.
Niall Crowley, independent equality consultant, presented the work of Claiming the Future, a kind of road map which emphasises equality, solidarity and environmental sustainability. He used a telling phrase – low-energy democracy – to describe how inertia and learned helplessness stymie radical change.
My father was a founder member of our local SVP conference, and served for 21 years. As a result, I have always had a soft spot for the SVP, and therefore felt privileged to be one of the invited speakers. If compassionate accompaniment of people in trouble was all that SVP did, it would still be a vital organisation, but it does much more. It is an important advocacy and lobbying group for social justice.
I tried to show how destructive the dominant economic story has been, and how the last thing we need is to “get back to where we were”. Our current system is built on believing that profit constitutes the highest value, human beings are primarily individuals as opposed to members of communities, constant consumption is the route to fulfilment, the marketplace will provide, and long-term thinking is neither wise nor possible for politicians who wish to get re-elected.
Any other world view based on values such as community and environmental sustainability is dismissed as naive, utopian and unworkable. In reality, it is the current system that is doomed to endless cycles of boom and bust, with the financial markets, as Martin Wolf says, inherently susceptible to manias and panics.
Listening to the stories told by the SVP is a spur to change the dominant story that has resulted in misery for so many people. We need to move past apathy and low energy, unless we want to continue to condemn people to lives of quiet desperation in an allegedly civilised and developed country. Perhaps some of these stories will change what matters in our society.