New government will have to confront the need to raise taxes

If we want better services and infrastructure we must collect adequate revenue

‘While many aspects of the Irish healthcare system result in very positive outcomes for citizens, many experience significant access issues, and Ireland’s long waiting lists and regular trolley crises are well publicised.’ File photograph: Getty Images

‘While many aspects of the Irish healthcare system result in very positive outcomes for citizens, many experience significant access issues, and Ireland’s long waiting lists and regular trolley crises are well publicised.’ File photograph: Getty Images

 

As negotiations continue to form a new government, all parties should note the title of the most recent Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Published in late 2019, the report argues that the challenges currently facing globalised society require us to look, as the report’s title puts it, “Beyond income, beyond averages and beyond today”. The UNDP argues that a connecting thread running through much of the recent protest about many issues is a deep and rising frustration with inequalities.

It states: “Too often, inequality is framed around economics, fed and measured by the notion that making money is the most important thing in life. But societies are creaking under the strain of this assumption.”

While many of the fundamentals of the Irish economy – headline employment numbers, consumption, exports – are on positive trajectories, they are in sharp contrast with other indicators of progress.

The cracks in our society are all too visible across our country, with record levels of homelessness, unprecedented numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets of our towns and cities and people lying on trolleys in hospitals across the country. These visible signs of distress and inequality are shocking. Equally as dangerous and debilitating is the persistent poverty that remains hidden beneath the assumption that plenty for the lucky few will lead to prosperity for the many. Today in Ireland, more than 689,000 people are living in poverty, of whom more than 200,000 are children.

Housing crisis

Housing is a basic need of all humans. But despite a booming economy Ireland has been doing a very poor job providing appropriate accommodation for its citizens. There are 68,693 households on social housing waiting lists and homelessness numbers are at record levels, while child homelessness has increased fourfold over the last five years. Rental costs are also at an all-time high, making many cities (particularly Dublin) unaffordable to those on low or below-average incomes.

Healthcare services are fundamental to human wellbeing. Citizens of a developed western country such as Ireland should be assured of the required treatment and care in their times of illness or vulnerability. However, while many aspects of the Irish healthcare system result in very positive outcomes for citizens, many experience significant access issues, and Ireland’s long waiting lists and regular trolley crises are well publicised.

The challenges outlined here can be addressed only through robust and well-funded public services and infrastructure; things that have always been funded through taxing the fruits of economic growth. But these challenges must also be addressed within the context of our climate obligations.

If we want better services and infrastructure – and it appears that we do – we cannot provide them while failing to collect adequate revenue to pay for them.

This requires an acknowledgement from the new government that Ireland’s current model of revenue generation does not provide the resources necessary to deliver the public services, social infrastructure and income supports that Ireland needs. This is a reality Irish society and the political system need to begin to seriously address.

Ireland faces huge challenges in terms of healthcare, access to housing, providing for an ageing population and moving to a cleaner, greener economy. So how can a new government begin to resolve these issues? The starting point is to acknowledge that these problems won’t all be solved in one term of office, but with the right approach substantial progress can be made. The positive aspects of Ireland’s economic revival should be consolidated and built upon.

Five key outcomes

The objective of the next programme for government must be to develop a sustainable and fair society if we are to address the many challenges we face. Social Justice Ireland believes that significant progress can be made if the term of office of the next government seeks to deliver five key outcomes.

1: A vibrant economy, which will generate the resources needed to deliver decent services and infrastructure.

2: Decent services and infrastructure. The new government should ensure there is a minimum social floor of income and services to which everyone is entitled.

3: A just taxation system is vital to fund decent services and infrastructure and to gradually increase the overall tax take. This should be done in a fair way that reduces income inequality.

4: Good governance. People need to trust that government will address challenges, improve living standards, and that everyone has a say in decisions that affect them.

5: Sustainability. All of this must be underpinned by sustainable development, climate justice, balanced regional development and new measures of progress. Sustainability is not only about the environment – it is also about finances, economics and social wellbeing.

Our challenges are not insurmountable but business as usual is not an option.

Michelle Murphy is research and policy analyst with Social Justice Ireland

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