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Not a happy Christmas for the marginalised

While many enjoy a Christmas feast, many hundreds of people in the voluntary sector are facing a famine in the new year. Buried in the depths of the recent budget was the news that Government funding for organisations all over the country was being withdrawn and, as a result, projects would close. Those employed to run them would find themselves out of work.

I have spoken in recent months to people involved in some of these projects. They work with the marginal, the forgotten and the disadvantaged in our society. They are on the fringes, in places where the media spotlight rarely shines and where the great work they do is rarely recognised. The results they achieve and not grandiose in their scale. They do not make for great headlines but the effect on the lives of those who benefit is massive and their implications for our wider society impressive, considering the level of investment they require.
It has been reported on RTÉ in the past week that while the dust had settled after the smash-and-grab aggression of the budget, 30 of 180 community projects around the country have been receiving emails. In these electronic missives is the news that their projects are no longer viable and as a result their funding will be cut in 2010.
From January onwards, the implication is, their services are no longer needed in Ireland. This is very interesting if you think carefully about the services they are providing. These people are working in the areas of community development, caring for the elderly, youth projects, after-school projects for at-risk kids and community drug projects. They are providing, in many cases, the only link between the people who use, and desperately need, these services and the State providers of the services. All in all, as a result of these cuts, around 200 to 300 people will lose their jobs in January, adding to the dole queues and significantly adding to the difficulty in many people’s lives.    
The message from the Government is clear – if you are not contributing to Irish society in an economic sense then you can expect very little care from the State. Certainly, many in the public sector will argue that even though they contribute in a very significant way, they are being targeted, but that remains an issue for another day. The people who are being hit by this most recent and silent set of cuts are those who are already struggling to survive. A society can be best judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members and in this regard Ireland must hang its head in shame.
Young people born into hopeless situations on some of Ireland’s most deprived estates will no longer have the option of community projects to help them escape their dire circumstances. They will, however, be policed and assumed to be criminals. These cuts will irreparably damage their prospects and the voice that might have spoken in their defence has been silenced.
The elderly who worked for years to build the nation are also firmly in the Government’s crosshairs in respect of clawing back money. Having served their useful purpose, they are now abandoned to the lonely wait for death, their contribution forgotten.
Similarly, those with disabilities who may have difficulty in securing the work that might qualify them as productive or useful members of society in the Government’s eyes can now look forward to reduced services.
We are told that the cuts are necessary by the Government in order to reset and restart Ireland on the capitalist treadmill. If Ireland is to get back to full economic strength then, tough though they may be, these sacrifices must be made. I do not think this argument entirely holds water. There are a lot of people in Ireland who made a lot of money while the good times rolled. There remains a lot of people in Ireland who earn sums that would make Scrooge blush and they are not being sufficiently taxed.
In his 1875 work Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx wrote “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. Of course, the wider ideology of communism is not something I would ever advocate but there is something inherently fair about that statement. Who would argue that those who have great need in our society but find themselves unable to meet that need should not be helped by those who have great abundance? Certainly, it does not fit with the new extreme capitalist, consumer society we have adopted with such devotion in Ireland but, as we are seeing all too clearly, that ideology has considerable negative aspects also.
There is enormous potential for the Government to raise considerably more tax revenue than it currently does by taking a number of simple steps. They can target their taxation at those who can be described as rich, wealthy or extremely wealthy.
There are hordes of people in the country today who possess enormous wealth but hire private accountants to ensure that as little of this money as possible is paid to the State in the form of tax that might pay for services such as those quoted above. In effect, these people might as well go around the country closing community centres and taking money from the purses and wallets of the blind. This may sound ridiculous but it is, in fact, the case. If these people pay their fair share then maybe the most vulnerable people in society and those who work to improve their lives will not suffer as they are at the moment.
Unfortunately, the wealthy and the highly educated have a nasty habit of voting and tend to take a very active role in politics. As a result, politicians are all too aware that interfering with them can have a detrimental effect on a party’s performance at the ballot box. The marginalised, on the other hand, are less likely to vote and as a group can effectively be ignored by the political classes. With no end to this terrible inequality in sight, it will not be a merry Christmas for huge numbers of Irish people who languish on the edges of society, excluded and ignored.


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