Helping hand

Wed, Nov 24, 2010, 00:00

JUST BECAUSE the EU Commission and the IMF have arrived with strict financial guidelines for Government should not inhibit concerned citizens from contributing to charities that will help families and individuals in need. This is still a wealthy country and many people can afford to be generous. Helping others is a rewarding exercise and, as the Christmas season approaches, there is no better time to do it.

The St Vincent de Paul society launched its annual appeal this week at a time when calls on its services have risen rapidly and public donations are declining. The Simon Community has had a similar experience. Other voluntary organisations are equally affected. Rising unemployment, business closures and the near-collapse of the construction sector have seen the lives of former donors “turned upside down” by the recession. Those who can afford it, however, should dig deep and give generously. They will not regret it.

Economic crisis and fiscal uncertainty encourages careful people to stop spending and conserve assets. Nothing wrong with that, you might say. But caution can be taken too far. A modern economy requires the circulation of money, just as a healthy society requires an equitable sharing of wealth. Irish governments have a poor record in helping the disadvantaged. Traditionally, it was left to religious and voluntary agencies to deal with extreme cases. The establishment of Combat Poverty helped to change that attitude, but the agency became a victim of its own success and Government cutbacks. At the same time, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in society continued to grow.

The Government has undertaken to find some €6 billion in spending cuts and additional taxation in the coming budget. From what Ministers have said, a considerable amount may come from social spending. There are, however, choices to be made. And it is vital to protect those living at greatest risk of poverty. In that regard, lone-parent households are particularly vulnerable, as are people under 65 years of age who live alone. Children are the most “at risk”.

The prevention and alleviation of poverty should be a priority in any long-term economic planning. People do better and societies are healthier when basic needs are met. This is “European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion”. Ministers and EU officials should not ignore that aspiration in the coming weeks.In the meantime, caring citizens can help those organisations that are doing tremendous voluntary work.