December 2014        

Suffer the little children

Alan Hanlon

The political establishment under Fianna Fáil and the Green Party made a political decision to plunge this country into debt by deciding to pay billions of euros back to unsecured bondholders and speculators. At the time, Éamon Gilmore of the Labour Party described Cowen and Lenihan as “economic traitors.” When the coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party under Kenny and Gilmore was elected, it not only continued the exact same policy of austerity against the working class but intensified it.
     All the gains of the working class in pay and conditions were wiped out. This is now a low-wage economy. For the wider society, social supports in the areas of housing, welfare and education were cut; more people, even those on a state pension or unemployed, were brought into the tax net. Employers were facilitated in paying low wages by the state picking up the tab through family income supplements. The numbers of the working poor expanded.
     Transnational companies continue to be facilitated with deals on low corporation tax or “research grants” and other under-the-counter supports for “wealth-creators.” Austerity did not apply to everyone!
     The establishment likes to portray this country as a safe place for children, with happy, freckle-faced youngsters used in tourist advertisements for the foreign market. All the time the systematic abuse of children under the control of religious orders was allowed to continue, because the state turned a blind eye.
     The state allowed the perverted abuse of children, trafficking children to wealthy families for “adoption,” the falsification of birth and marriage certificates, conducting bigamous marriages while at the same time refusing to allow civil divorce. It allowed women and children to be treated as slaves in church-run laundries and workhouses.
     All this is supposed to be part of Ireland’s dark past. What a cynical lie!
     The UNICEF report Children of the Recession: The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Child Well-Being in Rich Countries exposes the lie. The proportion of children suffering from poverty has increased in Ireland from 18 per cent in 2008 to 29 per cent in 2012. That is an increase of a little less than 60 per cent in four years. By cutting child benefits, unemployment benefits and social supports and levying tax liabilities on people with little income (“widening the tax base”) in order to support debt repayments to wealthy speculators, the state decided to plunge even more children into poverty, with all the consequences such poverty will have on their future.
     Children living in poverty are more likely to remain poor as adults and to have poor children, thus continuing the cycle of unremitting poverty from generation to generation. Ireland is now 37th out of 41 rich countries, but 29 per cent of its children are living in households whose income is below the poverty line.
     Bear in mind that this report deals with rich countries. Just as children are being plunged into poverty we have the nauseating reports of Ireland’s “wealth-creators” going to Britain or the United States, declaring themselves bankrupt, and returning to Ireland free of debt and writing books about their hard lives.
     Forcing families and children into poverty through homelessness because exorbitant mortgages can no longer be sustained as a result of unemployment or the plethora of charges and bills leads to a transient existence in B&Bs. The lack of state-funded child care and other supports ensures that it can be extremely difficult to get out of poverty once in it.
     The effect on children and therefore on future generations is that there is an inability to have a stable, safe and secure home life, with the consequences of poor education and often illiteracy. About 16 per cent of those in the age range 15–24 are not in any form of education, training, or employment. The result of these policies of austerity will be increasing alienation from society and social and psychological problems in later life, with diminished opportunities. The only employment opportunities are likely to be unskilled labour. The future army of wage slaves is being created by these policies.
     The UNICEF report makes it clear that the policies pursued in Ireland are deliberate. Other countries, including Chile, Poland, Slovakia, Norway, and Denmark, did a better job of protecting their children during the period of the economic downturn. With the exception of Denmark, these other countries improved the position of their children, despite the recession. It was in those countries that followed the austerity programme of the International Monetary Fund, such as Ireland and Greece, that children were tossed into the abyss of poverty and deprivation.
     The report states clearly: “If the neglect continues, the crisis among children will continue well after any economic recovery.”

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