No economic crisis justifies what vulnerable are paying
Add in the savage cuts and reduction in special needs assistants and other support services in both primary and secondary schools and it becomes obvious that once again it’s the poor and the most vulnerable who are targeted during recessions and they most definitely pay the biggest price – a price, incidentally, that is almost impossible to measure.
Yes, of course we can measure in financial terms what the State saves but what about the human costs?
Primary education is the most important and precious of all our strands of education and if we continue to neglect it we will in time pay a huge price as thousands of children will lose out.
Last week I attended a seminar organised by childcare residential managers at which many of those present expressed their frustration and anger at the State’s failure to care adequately for many very vulnerable children and their families, and in many cases the examples given were nothing short of neglect.
Earlier this year the report on the deaths of children in care concluded that almost 200 children had died, after the original figure given by the HSE was fewer than 30. This report generated a strong public reaction and lots of anger and rightly so. These were children who were failed by the State and all had paid the ultimate price.
At the time of its publication I expressed the view that the report was long overdue and at last the real cost of the State’s neglect of vulnerable children was being recognised. But I did highlight the fact that it was restricted to reviewing the cases of children who had died.
What about the many hundreds or perhaps thousands of children who were equally failed by the State but survived in so far as they are still alive? What price have they paid in terms of their health and their general wellbeing?
How many have experienced homelessness, addiction, imprisonment, mental health problems or lives of unemployment as a direct result of their neglect?
The answer is we don’t know.
I can vouch for the fact that most charitable and voluntary organisations are working on a knife edge and will not be in a position to sustain any further cutbacks in financial resources with the result that many essential family and child support services will be reduced or lost.
Like all budgets, this year’s is about choices, and I know where I stand on such choices: I am more than willing to give more to help those who are in dire need and I believe that there are thousands of like-minded people in our society.
Many in Irish society, young and old, have soaked up and tolerated huge hardship over the past four years or so; many are left with no real quality of life and the most vulnerable have suffered most of all, the old, the sick, children born into and living with poverty, children and adults with physical and mental disabilities, the unemployed and the elderly living alone. At this stage people need to be reassured that their lives are going to improve but most definitely that they won’t get any worse.
Next Wednesday’s budget can be a new beginning or it can be the straw that finally breaks people’s resolve.
One thing is certain: any more cutbacks for those on the margins of our society will have catastrophic consequences.
John Lonergan is a former governor of Mountjoy Prison