Ibec’s quarterly economic outlook shows we’re far from ‘in this together’

With tougher restrictions looming, Government can no longer rely on catchy slogans

 A report by Ibec says builders have been among the worst hit by the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

A report by Ibec says builders have been among the worst hit by the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

 

So, we’re not “in this together” after all. The slogan, meant to unify the national spirit in the initial phase of the State’s anti-Covid-19 lockdown, never really rang true when it was first foisted on us in March.

Employers’ group Ibec’s quarterly economic outlook, published on Monday, shows that some sections of society have borne the brunt more than others. Pub, restaurant and hotel staff, shop workers, builders, and – as happens in every crisis – young people bore the brunt of measures to contain coronavirus.

These were hardest hit when the government tightened its lockdown in the spring. They accounted for half the 210,000 workers getting the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) midway through September. Under-25s, who make up 10.5 per cent of the workforce, made up 22.5 per cent of those getting the payment.

Meanwhile, workers in manufacturing, technology and finance appear to have ridden out the past seven months reasonably well, although that is no guarantee for what could happen over the winter.

Tax figures show that those hit hardest were also among the lowest paid. Some of this was unavoidable, but more of it was not. Conflicting Government guidelines, including keeping wet pubs closed when infection rates were low, only to allow some of them open as the virus took a renewed hold, did not help. Similarly, travel advice, which asked travellers from most EU countries to quarantine for two weeks, killed prospects of rescuing anything from the tourist season.

With tougher restrictions looming as we cope with a second wave, these workers can expect more hardship. However, there may yet be ways of getting them back to work. Ibec notes that collectively, Irish families have saved €20 billion more than they owe their banks. Similarly, the Government is committed to finally tackling inadequacies in transport, water treatment, health, education and other services.

Pushing ahead with those plans, irrespective of Covid, while allowing people with spare cash to spend some of it at the earliest opportunity, should now be high on the list of Government priorities. Catchy slogans will not cut it this time round.

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