There is an arrogance about this Fine Gael and Labour government, as there was with the last. They talk and think like economists. But unlike good economists who understand the connection between people and the economy, this government doesn’t look at the social consequences of its actions and policies.
Do they care about what will happen to pensioners unable to keep their homes warm? Are they are at all interested in the efforts of lone parents to make ends meet on dwindling benefits? Do they worry about children going to school without a warm breakfast or the thousands of families who have had to give up their private health insurance and are now left to the mercies of a public health service in crisis?
There is a fundamental disconnect which allows Fine Gael and Labour deputies in the Dáil to repeatedly vote for policies they know are hurting people and against alternative propositions which can work.
The social consequences are all around them in the cuts to essential public services; the numbers of young people leaving our shores; the cuts to DEIS schools; the slashing of school guidance counsellors; the attack on rural communities through the septic tanks debacle; stealth taxes; the crisis in our health service, and now the imposition of cuts to Community Employment schemes which will in effect see the end of many such schemes.
One news report at the weekend produced new figures that confirmed what many of us have been saying for some time; that the government’s austerity taxes are disproportionately impacting on lower and middle income families while those at the other end of the scale are slightly better off.
The figures revealed that anyone earning between €17,542 and €20,000 have seen a 215% increase in their tax and are now paying three times more than they did in 2010.
Those earning between €20,000 and €30,000 are paying 36% more and those earning between €40,000 and €50,000 are paying 23% more.
In stark contrast those earning between €100,000 and €125,000 paid and increase of 6.8% while those between €400,000 and €450,000 paid only 1.1% more.
At the same time at the government is imposing harsh new stealth taxes on low and middle income families it is insisting in handing billions of taxpayers money over to criminal banks – as much as €20 billion last year. Next month €3.1 billion – almost as much as the total the government cut in its pre-Christmas budget – will be paid to Anglo-Irish Bank – a bank that is dead and no longer trades.
People are being squeezed. They can’t take anymore. The accumulation of three years of austerity has not fixed the economy but more importantly, it has pushed people too far. And this Government not only plans four more years of the same but has signed up to an Austerity Treaty that will make austerity a legal requirement on any government and impose even more cuts.
That’s why hardly a day goes past when one community organisation or another, or group of school children or trade union isn’t outside the gates of Leinster House protesting.
Week after week this blog challenges the Taoiseach in the Dáil and other shinners confront his Ministerial colleagues on these vital issues. He and they are immune to the detrimental affects of their decisions.
The same cannot be said about the government party’s backbenchers, especially the Labour TDs. They sit and squirm and occasionally shout back but it is clear from their body language that they know their constituency is deeply unhappy with the course of action being pursued by the government.
So, why does the Government believe its economic model and not ours or some other will work?
This is a question which tugs at my mind when common sense, never mind the economic imperative, demands an end to the austerity strategy.
To break it down simply, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore and their friends in Government are for austerity. So too is Fianna Fail.
Their thinking runs like this. There is a deficit. The way to reduce the deficit is to cut spending and increase taxes. They believe the tax to spending cuts ratio must entail more spending cuts. They believe the taxes must be levied across society rather than targeted at high earners. This means low and middle income families taking up the burden of stealth taxes and increases in VAT.
They want spending cuts across all spending areas, rather than targeted at waste etc. They pretend to want to create jobs because they know the public is demanding this but in reality they make no substantial investment available to achieve this. And anyway they believe that the private sector will create the jobs.
Sinn Féin differs from them in many ways but especially in that we do not focus on the deficit alone. We believe the deficit is the result of a crisis. Leaving the causes of that crisis untreated means the crisis won’t go away. One cause is a collapse in employment as a result of an economy being built on the back of unsustainable industry, in this case, property. Another is the collapse in the banking sector as a result of corruption and of right wing policies which refused to regulate the banks.
Republicans want to create jobs which in turn will increase the amount of tax going to the state, increase consumer spending (keeping businesses going) and lower social welfare spending. In the meantime, we want a change in the tax system to make it fairer, so we would target high earners, and we want spending waste trimmed.
We also believe that the state should stop paying billions of taxpayers money out to criminal banks.
But for now Fine Gael and Labour are locked into austerity policies. Why. Because they protect their class interests and the status quo.