18 September 2003 Edition

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Crowe slams "lost decade" for tackling poverty


Fact: the 26 Counties is not just one of the most unequal societies in the industrial world; it also has one of the most miserly governments.

A new Combat Poverty report published this week by Trinity College Dublin academic Virpi Timonen shows that we have a "low tax, low spend" policy when it comes to tackling poverty and disadvantage in Ireland. It means that the chances of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor in Ireland are "relatively low".

In the 26 Counties, social insurance payments by workers and employers account for only 13% of tax revenue, compared to an EU average of 29%.

The report also confirmed what many people dependent on welfare have known for some time, that the gap between welfare payments and wages grew substantially in the 1990s. A third of Irish households continue to live in poverty, despite the Celtic Tiger boom.

Though what the report calls "social expenditure" grew during the 1990s, there are concerns about how efficient that spending was. For example, a substantial amount of the increase in health spending during the 1990s was absorbed in "management and administration" costs. This, according to the report, is a loss for both "equity and efficiency".

The Combat Poverty report also found that the Irish welfare and tax system reinforces market created inequalities in Ireland. This has "further knock-on effects for health, human capital formation, life time earnings and quality of life".

Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe, who attended the report launch, told An Phoblacht that "acting on this report's findings should be a priority for the Social Affairs minister".

Crowe said: "The CPA report highlights the need for more efficient and increased government spending in health services and childcare. It also puts the ball back in the government's court, pointing out the need for a more fair tax system, which could redistribute wealth.

"The 1990s provided the government with an unprecedented chance to use their resources to tackle poverty. Instead, they copped out with tax cuts for the rich and badly planned social spending. The 1990s were a lost decade when it came to tackling poverty. We must not repeat this cycle of failure."

An Phoblacht
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