It would have taken a very keen Europhile to have spotted the European Commission’s annual policy recommendations for Ireland, issued on 19th May, which slipped into the public domain with little or no take up or interest by the media. These proposals are part of the annual process of review, correction and monitoring of Member States’ economic and social progress. While they are not binding, they do exert political pressure.
This time around they focused on
As the largest charity of social concern in Ireland we have a strong interest in ensuring that the issues of the people our 11,000 volunteer members assist are incorporated into the design of critical social policies at both a European and national level. That’s why we were very disappointed in the lack of ambition in the recommendations, given the deep crisis in our public health system and the ongoing scandal of the cost of child care and lack of after school care services.
While SVP is in agreement with the recommendations on health care and childcare, they did not go far enough to address the very visible fault lines in service provision in this country.
We expected a much clearer emphasis on solving deep structural issues such as the inability of our health care system to provide adequate primary, community and continuing care services. Without timely access to diagnosis and treatment in the community, health inequalities will continue to reflect the social class divide where those who can afford it will access quicker diagnosis and treatment leaving those who cannot to wait their turn on long waiting lists for over-subscribed services.
We would have liked to see the recommendations about work and childcare go further and focus on the lack of policy coherence, evident in the reforms to payments to those parenting alone which will in some cases result in further poverty, deprivation and social exclusion.
Insufficient supply of places in the various child care schemes, difficulties in the design of the schemes and the ongoing question mark about how well the Further Education and Training sector is working with the activation service for jobseekers are challenges which must be rectified in the short term. Very little detail on how this should happen was offered in the recommendation from Europe. SVP expected more explicit enunciation of what needs to happen to address the current partial response to meeting the challenges of quality, access and affordability in child care, including after school.
Access to affordable, quality provision of child care and after school care is a key driver in the reduction child poverty. It would have been useful if the Commission had been more explicit and recommended a funding model for childcare and after school care which links quality provision and high outcomes. This will require investment at a sustained and ongoing level.
It is clear to SVP that without social investment Ireland cannot meet its Europe 2020 targets, therefore we would have welcomed more explicit commentary and recommendations which tackle the challenges and suggest ways of addressing critical problems. Ireland needs leadership which will commit and deliver on addressing the long term structural inequalities, which have been exacerbated by years of austerity budgets.
For us the recommendations were an ideal opportunity for the European Commission to hold Ireland to account for lack of delivery, poor policy coherence and weak implementation of critical reforms. Not taking this opportunity means that for some their experience of life will not improve in the near future, indeed in some cases they will experience further deprivation. SVP will continue to lobby at both European and national levels to ensure that the voice of those who bear the brunt of poorly designed schemes and services and slow reforms will continue to be heard.