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Exploring Social Justice

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Government Proposals to Deal with Economic Crisis Lack Fairness

News Release

Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice

Jesuit priest and leading social campaigner, Fr Peter McVerry SJ, has claimed that the Government’s approach to dealing with the current economic crisis is marked by a lack of fairness and an unwillingness to ask the wealthy to contribute in proportion to their resources. In effect, he says, the poor can’t pay; those who can, aren’t being asked to.

Writing in the November 2009 issue of Working Notes, the journal of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Fr McVerry says that the approach being adopted reflects the reality that people who are poor or vulnerable have little or no influence on policy, and that those who make the decisions reflect the views and interests of the better-off sections of our society, of which they themselves are part.

The Poor Can’t Pay

Fr McVerry argues that during the Celtic Tiger years, ‘the poorest and most vulnerable got the crumbs that fell from this rich nation’s table. Some of the decisions already taken, and some of the proposals now being considered, will mean the whole loaf of bread being confiscated from them.’

He says that that the really serious aspect of the cutbacks is their cumulative effect – ‘the reality that it is the same individuals and families who will experience multiple cutbacks across a range of income supports and social services.’

‘The absence of any recognition of this cumulative impact is disturbing’, says Fr McVerry. He argues that the detrimental consequences of cuts will ultimately result in the housing, health, justice and social welfare systems facing additional demands, which in the medium and long-term will far outweigh any savings achieved.

Those Who Can, Aren’t being asked to.

Fr McVerry points out that many whose incomes and wealth increased significantly during the boom will experience little decline in their living standards during the recession. Yet the Government seems to have set its face against tax increases: ‘The possibility that increased taxation should have a role to play seems to be off-limits in the debate. The approach proposed is endorsed publicly by many influential voices – and has, no doubt, been advocated in quiet lobbying by powerful sectors intent on ensuring that different means of addressing the problem, which might affect their interests, are not pursued.’

He criticises the fact that the terms of reference of the Commission on Taxation explicitly required the Commission to have regard to the Government’s commitment ‘to keep the overall tax burden low’

Fr McVerry says: ‘The argument is repeatedly made that increases in taxation on the wealthiest would raise only small sums, amounting to a fraction of what it needed – yet there is no hesitation is considering cuts in expenditure that may be only a small proportion of a government agency’s overall budget but will have a devastating impact on those affected.’

‘There is’, Fr McVerry says, ‘more than sufficient wealth in our society to solve the mess that we are in. Justice and fairness would demand that those who benefited so enormously from the Celtic Tiger years should, now that the good times have ended, dig deep into the pockets that those good times have lined. However, the reality appears to be that the wealth, which is highly concentrated in the hands of a small sector of the population, is going to remain largely untouched.’

Solidarity Does Not Mean ‘Everyone Should Share the Pain’

Fr McVerry criticises the way the term ‘social solidarity’ is now being used. He points out that social solidarity was seldom mentioned during the boom and indeed was almost destroyed in the rush for economic growth. Now, the term is being employed to suggest that it is reasonable that everyone should share the pain of addressing the downturn: ‘But  the meaning of social solidarity is not that everyone should share the pain – it is, rather, that those who can afford to make sacrifices should do so in order to protect those who cannot’.

[Ends]

For interview with Fr Peter McVerry or for further information contact:

Eoin Carroll, 087 225 0793

Copies of the article are also available.

Posted in Economic Policy News

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