UN claims State's poor hardest hit by low taxes


A SENIOR UN expert has criticised the Government’s policy of making deep cuts to public expenditure while maintaining low taxes, saying it will hit the poor hardest in the recession.

The expert, who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, has also called on EU states to reduce the interest rate charged on Ireland’s EU-IMF loan, warning a failure to do so may leave them in breach of their international legal obligations.

Dr Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona is the UN’s independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty. She conducted a five-day visit to Ireland in January to examine and report back to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council on the current situation in the country.

In her report to the UN published yesterday, Ms Carmona concludes the “economic and financial crises have wrought havoc on the country, with grave implications for the Irish people”.

The report says unemployment is rising and increasing numbers of people are living in poverty and social exclusion. The impact of the crisis has been severe, particularly for the most vulnerable segments.

The report criticises the Government for seeking to reduce the budget deficit by imposing deep cuts in public spending while maintain a low tax regime. This is likely to have a major impact on the most vulnerable in society.

“Reductions in public expenditure affect the poorest and most vulnerable with the most severity, whereas some increase in taxation rates could place the burden on those who are better equipped to cope,” says the report, which notes Ireland has one of the lowest levels of taxation in the EU.

However, the report criticises the universal social charge, which it describes as a regressive tax. It says it welcomes the new Government’s plan to review the charge.

“The independent expert recognises the difficult situation that Ireland faces in the aftermath of the economic and financial crises, but reminds the State of its continuing obligations to comply with human rights standards.”

The report says cuts to the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Equality Authority, the Ombudsman for Children and the National Disability Authority’s budgets have substantially reduced their capacity to protect the most disempowered in society.

“Human rights are not a policy option, dispensable during times of economic hardship. It is, therefore, vital that Ireland immediately undertakes a human rights review of all budgetary and recovery policies and ensures that it complies with . . . human rights principles.”

It warns recent drastic budget cuts at the Department of Health hold the potential to “significantly undermine the effective and efficient functioning of health and education services and the social protection system”.

The UN expert praises the Government for seeking a reduction in the interest rate charged on its EU-IMF loan, saying this would increase funds for those in need.

The report calls on EU states to seriously consider acceding to Ireland’s request for a reduction in the interest rate, saying they must consider their own international obligations to the poor.

“According to their obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, they must do everything possible to ensure that their lending policies do not have a detrimental impact on the enjoyment of the covenant’s rights by those living in poverty in the concerned country,” says the report.

A Department of Finance spokesman said last night the adjustment strategy sought to strike the best balance between public expenditure cuts and tax increases to aid recovery.

Free Legal Advice Centres called on the Government to implement the recommendation calling for a human rights review of all budgetary and recovery policies.