Ireland’s anti-poverty strategy

Remember a few years ago when Ireland was the talk of the chattering classes seeking to get big corporate tax cuts (they succeeded). Left unsaid at the time was that Ireland was the beneficiary of billions of euros in transfers in support of infrastructure, and that Ireland itself invested heavily in its education system (including free post-secondary education), and that Ireland was attractive as an investment location for US multinationals because they spoke English, worked relatively cheaply and were an appealing base to serve the European market.

What I did not know was about Ireland’s anti-poverty efforts. Here is today’s Toronto Star on Ireland’s strategy, and the need for a Canadian one:

What the poor need: A strategy
Ireland dramatically reduced its poverty rate, so why can’t rich Canada do the same?
Sep. 20, 2006

When Ireland decided in the mid-1990s to tackle the pervasive and grinding poverty dogging the country, the national government crafted a plan and set a goal.

Ten years later, the country has cut its poverty rate from 15 per cent to less than 5 per cent.

That kind of action has been missing in Canada where the poverty rate has been stuck at 16 per cent for a generation, says John Anderson of the federally mandated National Council of Welfare. If provinces like Quebec and Newfoundland can develop detailed strategies for poverty reduction and deadlines to meet them, surely Ottawa can play a role, he reasons.

… The Irish plan took minimum wage earners off the income- tax rolls and pumped more money into training, especially for newcomers and transient workers. It increased welfare payments for those between jobs or unable to work. It beefed up support for drug cards, child care, subsidized housing, transportation and heat. And it targeted economically depressed communities for government investment.The multifaceted approach was so successful the country of 4 million reached its 10-year target of cutting “consistent poverty” in half within five years.

Since 2001, the Irish government has adopted action plans every two years to update the effort. Its most recent plan calls for cutting poverty to below 2 per cent by next year.

In Canada, despite the House of Commons’ 1989 all-party resolution to eliminate child poverty by 2000 and a raft of federal and provincial initiatives to overhaul employment insurance, welfare and child benefits, one in six is still poor, according to the welfare council.

As the Canadian experience shows, a scatter-gun approach to poverty reduction doesn’t work. That’s why the council, an advisory body to the human resources minister, is calling on Ottawa to draft a national anti-poverty strategy with clear goals and funding to meet them.

Note that the story continues beyond what’s here to talk about efforts in Quebec and Newfoundland to fight poverty, and on the sidebar of the story there are links to a few related stories (a series on poverty this week).

A truly national strategy is required. That means that the feds need to get into the game to prevent the prisonner’s dilemma situations provinces find themselves facing when going it alone. Restoring a national housing strategy to fund the creation of new affordable housing is much needed since the feds pulled the plug in 1993. Bringing social assistance into the federal income support fold would be an improvement, as would a national pharmacare plan and a national early learning and child care program.

These would all cost money, a lot of which has been squandered by the Tories, so revisiting things like the GST cut and those family allowance cheques would be in order. If you are interested in how much these various items cost, I direct you to the CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget.

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