Protecting the Vulnerable

“As early American President Andrew Jackson once said: ‘We should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base.’ The IMF has recognised Ireland’s banking crisis as the most costly in advanced economies “since at least the Great Depression”. It needed a big response, and Labour in Government provided it, helping build the jobs-led recovery that is now under way. Throughout it all, we prioritised protecting the most vulnerable in society to the greatest possible extent.

Other countries in similar difficulties slashed welfare rates. We maintained core weekly welfare rates, including the State pension. And we protected the welfare safety net when others wanted to reduce it.

Official figures show that Ireland’s welfare system is the most effective in the EU at preventing poverty. The economic recovery now under way offers opportunity to those of us who are rooted in social democratic politics. An opportunity to secure the recovery, to spread the benefits, and do so in a fair way that raises living standards and lowers inequality.

My focus is building an Ireland of renewed prosperity, from the bottom up and middle out – rather than the top down. People’s economic rights are just as central as their social rights to living a complete and fulfilled life. The right to the best education we can provide. The right to a job with decent pay and conditions. The right to an affordable and secure home. The right to healthcare based on need, not wealth. The right to security of income in retirement. And the right to robust protection in law from corporate predators.

A progressive vision based on vindicating people’s economic rights can – and will – lower inequality. That is Labour’s vision – and the recovery is now giving us the leeway to increase welfare payments in targeted areas such as Child Benefit and the Christmas Bonus, reduce taxes for low and middle-income workers, invest in public services such as free GP care for young children, and provide more teachers and facilities for our schools.”

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