Social welfare to be linked to inflation under Varadkar plan

Minister tells MacGill School impact of economic collapse worse than any statistics can show

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said he intends to link social welfare rates to the cost of living or average earning to ensure that people dependent on the payments do not see their standard of living fall in the future.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said he intends to link social welfare rates to the cost of living or average earning to ensure that people dependent on the payments do not see their standard of living fall in the future. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said he intends to link social welfare rates to the cost of living or average earning to ensure that people dependent on the payments do not see their standard of living fall in the future.

Dr Varadkar, in an address to the MacGill Summer School on Thursday on the issue of inequality and social alienation, said Ireland had come throught a “lost decade” due to the recession.

Things were improving but the Minister acknowledged that many people have not felt any sense of recovery.

“The human impact of the economic collapse was worse than any statistics can describe; forced emigration, lost homes, lost businesses, lost hopes and even lost lives. It was Ireland’s lost decade,” he said.

“But while the economy has recovered fully, living standards have not and the rise in inequality has not yet been reversed. When people say they haven’t experienced the recovery in their lives or their locality, it’s probably because they have not.”

In terms of tackling inequality, Dr Varadkar said he proposed to index weekly social welfare payments to the cost of living or to average earnings, and “enshrining that principle” in legislation.

“This will ensure that people who depend on these payments never again see their standard of living eroded or falling behind society in general,” he said.

He also planned to “develop and try to build a consensus around a new universal occupation pension scheme for Irish workers to top up the State pension when they retire”. He said half currently have no such provision.

Prosperity

The Minister said prosperity was a necessary but insufficient foundation for a good and fair society. “Alone, prosperity is not enough unless it is a possibility for one and all,” he said.

“There is a growing divide between rural Ireland and urban Ireland, between the east coast where the population in rising and western counties, like this one, where it continues to fall.

“A generational divide is opening up with many younger people locked out of the mortgage market, with poorer pension provision, without security in employment, and on terms and conditions less favourable than their older co-workers,” he added.

Dr Varadkar said that for many “decades this country was a cold house for many citizens - for women, for people who were gay, lesbian or transgender, and for children”.

“We have worked to bring about equality before the law for all citizens. The marriage equality referendum and children’s rights referendums and the actions that followed demonstrated that. But we need to do more.”

Dr Varadkar, when referring to Brexit, said the Remain camp fought on a campaign of Project Fear while the Leave side fought on a platform of Project Hate. He also believed that the groundswell of support for the “rhetoric of Donald Trump bears similarities to Project Hate”.

‘Project opportunity’

The Minister said Ireland must pursue a policy of “Project Opportunity”.

“Politics cannot and should not be about fear or hate or resentment and division. It should be positive, unifying, hopeful and optimistic. It must elevate, and inspire, because the alternative is the angry dramas we see playing out in so many places across the world,” he said.

He warned that “without the right policy decisions, there is a real danger that the short term social storm caused by the recession could develop into a long-term rift in our society. Inequality also gives rise to feelings of social alienation and fuels political extremism.”

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the struggle for equality “is the great struggle in our society”.

He said that if tackling inequality was not “the central objective of policy and politics” then society in Ireland would unravel. He said the “jungle economics of the markets” must be resisted.

Mr Boyd Barrett said the super wealthy corporations operating in Ireland who had “phalanxes of accountants making sure they pay nothing” in taxes must be compelled to pay their proper share of their profits.

Mr Boyd Barrett said that the anti water charges campaign illustrated that the poorest and most disadvantaged in society were prepared to mobilise to resist unfair charges. “That is the great hope, and we need to build on that hope,” he said.