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26 March 2009 Edition

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There is a better way forward

FEBRUARY saw the release of catastrophic unemployment figures for the 26 Counties. They showed over 350,000 people out of work and 1,000 jobs being lost every day. The predictions of half a million people on the dole by Christmas must now be regarded as conservative.
When Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach in the Dáil before the St Patrick’s Day recess, and again this Tuesday, whether there would be a new Social Welfare Bill arising out of the Supplementary Budget in April his replies were an ominous signal that social welfare will be included in expenditure cuts.
October’s Budget penalised the unemployed who now have to be in employment for two years before qualifying for Jobseeker’s Benefit, as against one year before the Budget. The payment period also has been shortened. Newly-unemployed people are also facing very long delays before their claims for social welfare payments are assessed.
Low-income families have also suffered disproportionately from VAT rises, health charge increases, cuts in Child Benefit and the cut-off in the Childcare Supplement at five years of age. Many of these families still do not qualify for medical cards.
In the Dáil, Sinn Féin has challenged the Government to guarantee that existing levels of service for medical card holders will not be cut and that those who qualify for medical cards through unemployment will not face a diminished service after the April Budget.
October’s panic Budget saw the Government lash out at public services, cutting health and education. This was followed by public transport cuts. These were instinctive acts by a government that does not value public services as essential for our society and economy but rather as ‘goodies’ to be doled out when revenue figures allow.
The scale of the economic crisis means that the Government should ring-fence social expenditure to support those on the threshold of poverty. Revenue should be raised through taxing those who can afford to pay, through eliminating waste in public expenditure and through job retention and creation.
We need a real and effective employment strategy which is glaringly absent from Government.
Sinn Féin has pointed a way forward with its ‘Time for Action’ proposals, including an Employment Fund to help struggling and viable businesses to retain workers. This is far preferable to allowing people to be added to the ever-lengthening dole queues. The Government should take these proposals and the constructive proposals of the trade union movement on board.
A better and fairer way forward is possible.

An Phoblacht
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