There was a woman interviewed yesterday whilst on a march protesting cuts in care for people with disabilities. She pointed out that she got one day a month respite care, and asked, genuine tears in her eyes, “was that too much to ask for?”
She’s right, of course. The couple of thousand euro it costs to provide that vital service to her isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. Except there are, literally, over a million people in this country, from low paid public sector workers to low income pensioners to the choronocally ill who all need a couple of thousand (or more) euro spent on them every year. These people aren’t spongers or wasters, they’re the people that a civilised society should give a damn about.
But here’s the thing: The Taoiseach, responding to the march, pledged that the government would protect “the most vulnerable” in our society, and it’s there where the problem starts. Who are the vulnerable? The people above, certainly. What about people in mortgage arrears? The unemployed? Drug addicts? The mentally ill? Immigrant children with english language difficulties? Farmers struggling to make ends meet? Struggling artists?
The truth is, it’s easier to make a list of the least vulnerable. Members of the Oireachtas (at the moment, anyway) middle and higher ranking civil servants and public sector employees. Bank chiefs. The cash rich. But as long as our society, through the government, refuses to rationally list out who should be shielded, and therefore, who should carry the extra burden of reduced services and increased taxation, we end up with a muddle where the government is assailed every day by every well intentioned group. More importantly, from the government’s point of view, the opposition is allowed play Santa Claus to everyone of them.
The government should set up a commission to meet, in public, with opposition members, with the specific task of identifying the vulnerable and their costs to the exchequer, and shielding them by identifying other parts of the budget where the cuts can come from. This way, the opposition will have the actual power (which they say they want) to protect the vulnerable whilst also having to put their money where their mouths are in terms of matching cuts.