As it stands, the Society has already publicly announced its plan to withdraw from the Irish government’s so-called “social partnership” scheme next year if the government fails to tackle its election year commitments to tackle social exclusion.
Promises made in the National Anti Poverty Strategy Review of 2002 require policy changes that the St. Vincent de Paul Society are insisting the government must now honor.
This sharp divergence of views calls attention to the fact that Ireland’s social fabric is much more porous than commonly believed, and the poverty gap is increasing every year. Within the last ten years Ireland has toped the list of EU countries with the biggest gap between its richest and poorest citizens.
According to the Society, the Irish Government spends the lowest proportion of GDP in the European Union on national social protection (14.7 percent versus an European Union average of 27.5 percent). It also has the lowest tax regime in Europe (27.8 percent GDP versus a European Union average of 41.44 percent). The Irish social welfare system, long thought to provide adequate protection to the poor, is in fact consistently and chronically under resourced.
In reality the so-called Celtic Tiger economy has actually increased the economic squeeze on Irish poor by inflating the costs of their goods and services, creating a system where they pay more and receive less. The Society recently reported that calls for assistance to its national head office alone have risen by 80 percent in 2003.
Throughout the 1990’s – and even today – Ireland has pursued a low tax, low spend economy that relies on indirect taxation to redress shortfalls in public revenue. The net result is that those on lower incomes qualify for little and end up paying for everything.
Irish people want low taxes, but they are overlooking the ways in which this helps to copper fasten a permanent underclass. The need to address cause and effect in relation to indirect taxation and social deprivation has now become an urgent one.