Resources available to achieve just society, says agency


Ireland has the ability to become an "exemplar" to other European states in the way it works to eliminate social exclusion, according to the Combat Poverty Agency.

The agency's 14th annual report argued that a lack of financial resources could no longer be pointed to as a reason for the State not to invest in quality public services. The report was published yesterday by the agency's director, Ms Helen Johnston, who said: "We should now have a clear objective to ensure that our social policies are the best in Europe and our levels of poverty and social exclusion are the lowest."

Ms Johnston said there was no reason why Ireland, given its economic prosperity, should continue to spend less than its EU partners on the development of public services.

The Combat Poverty Agency was demanding a more ambitious approach to social progress. "We're calling for a significant shift in mind-set from cautious conservatism and reluctance to invest in public services," she said.

She referred to a recent UN quality-of-life report, which ranked Ireland 18th in a list of 162 countries. In another piece of research, however, the State came second from bottom in a poverty index of 17 industrialised countries.

"Given our new-found wealth it is no longer sufficient to be able to say `Things are better than before'," she said. "Our ambition should be to be an exemplar to other member-states.

"We must transform ourselves from being one of the most unequal societies in the EU, with one of the lowest levels of public spending in the industrialised world."

The Combat Poverty Agency is charged with advising the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Mr Ahern, on economic and social planning.

Mr Ahern was presented with a series of proposals, or "modest ambitions", which the agency said Ireland was capable of fulfilling within a few years. A spokeswoman for the Minister said he did not intend to release any comment on the report yesterday.

The agency's proposals included the elimination of homelessness and a reduction in the percentage of poor households headed by an unemployed person. The agency also called for all children to have access to high-quality education from an early age, and for access to affordable and high-quality public transport for people on low incomes.

There was currently a "worrying" level of underperformance in many of these areas, the report said. This meant existing programmes and policies were not sufficient.

The report said the Government's ongoing review of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPS) had the potential to address this concern.

"An ambitious vision of a more equal society, strong political will and social solidarity can inspire the new NAPS to be a policy commitment and action plan that transforms the Irish experience of poverty," it said.