Ireland's social contract is broken and the legitimate expectations of citizens are not being met, the advocacy group Social Justice Ireland has said.
In its latest report, published today, the group – directed by Dr Seán Healy – calls for a much larger social housing programme, an increase in social welfare payments and a universal State pension.
Dr Healy said breaches of the social contract were most obvious in areas such as “housing and homelessness, a two-tier healthcare system, an ongoing failure to provide rural broadband, and high levels of poverty and social exclusion, especially among children”.
He said this was “the first year of a new century for Ireland, and now is the perfect opportunity to develop a new and radical social contract for Ireland’s second century”.
The report makes recommendations to improve the economy, provide better services and infrastructure, change the taxation system and improve governance and sustainability.
It argues that all democracies are founded on a social contract, and a progressive contract is one where government works in the interest of all, where social cohesion and the common good are the primary measures of progress, and the economy is nurtured for the benefit of society.
The organisation's research and policy analyst, Michelle Murphy, said a social contract sets out the expectations, rights, and responsibilities of all parts of society.
“It means that everyone contributes to the common good – economically, socially or culturally – on the assumption that the State will provide a minimum standard of living, essential social services and infrastructure and the protection of basic rights,” she said.
“To come to a consensus on the standard of living that people want and agree on, and how this is to be delivered, requires dialogue, with input from all sectors of society. Choices must be made and agreement reached on how the social contract is to be delivered.”
The report says there needs to be an increase in the overall tax take, with a broader tax base and a fairer taxation system. To reduce poverty, social welfare payments should be increased, there should be a universal state pension and moves toward a basic income system for all.
It recommends a major investment programme to create employment, with a comprehensive school building programme and much larger social housing programme. It also recommends increased resources for homelessness.
On healthcare, the report calls for an increase in the availability and quality of primary and social care services, a statutory entitlement to a homecare package, and additional respite and long-term care facilities for older people and those with disabilities.
Educational disadvantage could be addressed through measures including increased investment in early childhood care and education, a commitment to reach lifelong learning targets already set out in the National Skills Strategy, and an ambitious target for adult literacy.