Government leaving tens of thousands to exist in abject poverty

‘More than 100,000 of State’s poorest unable to earn a living wage from their work.’

Sligo News File

Poverty is rampant with some tens of thousands of people suffering massive deprivation.

Sinn Fein Leader, Mary Lou McDonald.

A report released by Social Justice Ireland has revealed that nearly 800,000 of the population is now living below the poverty line.

More shockingly still, 100,000 of the country’s poorest have jobs but cannot earn a living wage.

The dismal record was raised in the Dail today by Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Addressing the Tanaiste, Simon Coveney, McDonald said the research by Social Justice showed that a startling 780,000 people are living below the poverty line. However, the figure that really jumped out from the report was that, she said, “more than 100,000 of the 780,000 people have jobs but cannot earn a living wage.”

She said:

“The reality is that this group which is perhaps best described as the barely-getting-by class has continued to grow since 2009. They are people who get out of bed early in the morning and work hard as they want to provide for their families. They have modest aspirations to have a decent life, yet they cannot plan for the future. How can they when they cannot make ends meet in the here and now?

“The casualisation of work, insecure employment and zero hour contracts are a real problem. Low pay, especially when taken in the context of the soaring cost of living, is also a real problem. Workers on very low wages and in insecure employment are somehow being asked to find the money to pay extortionate rent, grossly inflated insurance premiums and crushing child care costs.

“Each bill that comes through their letterbox lands with the weight of a sledgehammer. Many of these workers live with a constant sense of vulnerability. They fear that one unexpected occurrence, such as the car breaking down or a family member falling sick, will throw the train off the tracks and into chaos.

“I know Fine Gael’s mantra is that a job is the surest way to guard against poverty; certainly, it should be. However, Fine Gael says this while turning a blind eye to a recovery in which work does not pay. A job cannot be cheap labour. It must mean the cost of living and more. A job must give any worker the means not only to survive but also to
thrive. Good and secure jobs would replace workers’ vulnerability with confidence and certainty.

“The Government has a responsibility to ensure that these principles underpin our economy. The aspiration to a good life cannot be the preserve of the wealthy or the higher
echelons of society. To these more than 100,000 workers, the Taoiseach’s and the Government’s republic of opportunity is, quite frankly, a joke, and a bad one.

Remarking that he had not read that report, Coveney said, “Over the last ten days or so, while there was somewhat of a break in political activity in this House, a lot of economic data was released. All of it was pretty good news.

He said that “last year people’s wages increased by about 2.5%. Almost 70,000 extra people found employment last year; I think the official figure was 66,800. We are seeing more people at work and earning higher wages.

“That is the way to lift people out of poverty. It is about ensuring that we help people re-skill and find employment, providing decent working conditions for them and ensuring that the minimum wage is also at an appropriate level.

“This Government and the previous one increased the minimum wage on three separate occasions. Even at a time when unemployment was very high, and there was a lot of pressure on the labour force, we were increasing the minimum wage because we felt it was important to ensure that work could pay. That strategy has been working. Work does pay now.

“We are seeing an economy that is growing employment
opportunities, increasing wages and ensuring that people are incentivised to find a decent job, which I am glad to say they can now find all over the country. Of those 66,800 extra jobs, 85% were outside of Dublin.

Tanaiste, Simon Coveney TD

“That is also ensuring that we are spreading prosperity as it develops and as we manage it into the future.

McDonald said that for 100,000 people at work, “the prosperity train has not checked in at all. They still struggle, as I set out, not for ostentatious things, luxuries or extras but for the basics – a new pair of shoes for their child, a warm winter coat and the ability to make their rent, mortgage or household bills without constantly worrying.”

“To applaud the minimum wage as though that were reaching some high-water level in the economy is not on,” she said.