Society even more unequal when Labour in government
The Labour Party is right. Had Fine Gael got an overall majority in the 2011 election, today’s budget would be much more unfair. Social welfare rates would be cut again, having been cut in the first Fine Gael budget of last year; child benefit would no longer be a universal payment; there would be no mansion charge, the cuts in health and education would be deeper.
So there is a point to Labour being in Government and the same is true of Labour’s role in the seven previous coalitions in which it participated – with Fine Gael in 1948-51, 1954-57, 1973-77, 1981-82, 1982-87, 1994-97 and with Fianna Fáil 1992-94.
But is that all Labour is about?
After its last period in government from 1992 to 1997, a devastating commentary on its record in office – the Institute of Public Health report on Inequalities in Mortalities, was published in 2002. It showed that, during the time Labour was in government then, so deep were the inequalities in this society there were 5,400 premature deaths every year because of these inequalities.
One might have thought such a devastating legacy of its previous participation in office would have caused Labour to reflect on the point of being in coalition, but only Liz McManus, now departed from politics, even commented on the Inequalities in Mortalities revelations.
Following last year’s budget, the first after Labour’s most recent return to government following the ravages of its previous period in office, the ESRI established that the 2012 budget’s combination of indirect tax increases and welfare cuts imposed greater percentage losses on those with low incomes (reductions of between 2 to 2.5 per cent) as against losses of about ¾ of a per cent for those on the highest incomes.
That same ESRI study showed the previous Fianna Fáil-led government was much more progressive, with the impact of the austerity regime being directed most on those with higher incomes.
Did anybody in Labour wonder what was the point of being in government with Fine Gael if the outcome was an even more unequal and cruel society than pertained when the excoriated Fianna Fail was in office?
And even in the Fianna Fáil era we find Ireland was one of the most unequal countries in Europe, as measured by the “at risk of poverty” rate. On Monday last, Eurostat published its latest report on poverty and social exclusion. It showed that for the EU as a whole the at-risk-of-poverty rate was 24 per cent, but for Ireland, it was almost 30 per cent. Only three other countries in the EU 27 had a higher at-risk-of-poverty rate: Latvia, Lithuania and Romania.