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Crowe claims that rising tide does not lift all boats

16 February, 2005

Speaking in the Dáil this morning on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson Sean Crowe TD, welcomed Minister Seamus Brennan's recognition that the theory of the rising tide of economic prosperity lifting all boats is a flawed one. Deputy Crowe went on the state that the only way in which the Government could assist in narrowing the gap between rich and poor was through proactive measures designed to increase the living standards of those on social welfare and low incomes.

Deputy Crowe said: "While, many people have undoubtedly benefited from increased wages and higher living standards over the past decade, the CORI Justice Commission estimates that the gap between rich and poor has increased by €294 a week solely as the result of budgetary changes between 1997 and 2004.

"Despite the Government allegedly seeking the advice people like Fr. Sean Healy, the latest Budget will do nothing to reverse that trend. In fact the gap has widened as a consequence. As a result of changes made in Minister Cowan's Budget, a couple dependent on long term unemployment assistance are €23.30 per week better off, while the income of a couple with a joint income of €100,000 increases by €63.43. Overall, the income gap between rich and poor will widen by €30.93 per week.

"That has led to a situation in which the top 20 per cent of Ireland's highest earners receive 4.5 times more than the bottom 20 per cent. In Denmark the gap is 3.1 and the difference can be attributed to a more proactive policy in Denmark in taking measures that will reduce that gap.

"The choice is simple. Does the state simply maintain those dependent on social welfare on low rates of income which ensure that they become increasingly marginalized and isolated from the rest of society, or does it actively seek to narrow the income gap, while at the same time taking measures to incorporate as many of those on social welfare as possible into the workforce. In doing so, it must also ensure that those in employment are given an adequate living wage and in that regard. It has been estimated that up to a fifth of those in employment are living in poverty defined as an income less than 60% of the average industrial wage. In that context, I would like to record my support for the increase in the minimum wage being sought by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

"One of the means by which people can escape poverty and social welfare dependency is through education. In relation to single parents, the 2002 Census found that a mere 0.5% of those over 15 involved in full time education were single parents. One of the ways that this was being addressed was through the Back to Education grant, but the changes made by the previous Minister Coughlan which reduced the period over which people could qualify for this have made it less effective.

"Figures, which show that single mothers have much lower levels of educational attainment, prove that it is a major factor in condemning those mothers and their children to a life of poverty and social welfare dependency. Surely the most effective way to address this, and to ensure that less people find themselves in that position in the future is to increase the current levels of investment in educational schemes aimed at that group.

"The mentality whereby Education is somehow perceived as a means by which people avoid work must be eradicated, and people given the benefit of the doubt and not treated with suspicion when they apply for such schemes. This is particularly important where single mothers are attempting to access such schemes as this can provide a valuable role model for their own children. Far from imposing a burden on the state, investment in Back to

Education will in the long run prove to be cost effective in helping people access employment and in fostering a culture in which more people perceive the value of education.

"I was pleased to note that Minister Brennan has rejected recent suggestions that single mothers chose dependency on the Lone Parent Allowance as a career option. I also welcome his proposal that educational and work opportunities should be prioritised as the means through which people in that situation will be able to achieve a better life style but any changes to the Lone Parent Allowance must not be made in a way that will penalise people who currently find themselves dependent on that payment.

"In conclusion, I would welcome the Minister's recognition that poverty does still exist and that the theory of the rising tide lifting all boats is not good enough. However, that recognition and the marginal increases that he has introduced, must be set against the overall record of a Government that has consistently favoured the wealthy in this society above those who live on the margins. Only when a definite decision is made to reverse that thinking and to actively seek to reduce the growing poverty gap, will those forced to live in poverty begin to see an improvement in their position." ENDS

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