Investment in Society crucial to Ireland's future success

(04 Apr 2016)

Investment in society crucial to Ireland’s future success

Human qualities determine the strength of Ireland’s economy and community

Elections have a habit of pitting different interests or aspirations against each other. Choices are expressed as black and white, between taxing or spending, health or education, older people or younger people and so on.

The reality of how society functions is of course much more complex. Even when we come at problems from different perspectives, we can agree on a shared solution.

Ten years ago, the National Economic and Social Council’s (Nesc) report The Developmental Welfare State, set out a compelling vision of how social protection and economic performance could be made to support each other. It argued that a strong economy can serve social justice and that well-targeted social investment is integral to sustaining competitiveness.

The report was published after almost two decades of strong economic growth which, it argued, had not been sufficiently used to create a more just and attractive society. Social policies needed to change further if Ireland hoped to address the deep-rooted disadvantage of a section of the population that continued to rely on means-tested social assistance.

As the Irish economy continues to recover, these ideas are worth revisiting. Nesc argued the composition and manner of social spending are as significant as its level.

Educational disadvantage

For example, stemming educational disadvantage will enable children to benefit more from schooling, increase their employability when they reach working age and enable them to go on to have richer and more fulfilled lives.

Identifying the problem is of course the easy bit – the real challenge is finding and then implementing practical solutions.

Coalitions are needed to ensure comprehensive responses to these types of social problems. This requires the full spectrum of civic society to support a common ambition of achieving greater social cohesion.

It also requires all parts of government to work together and ensure effective long-term co-ordination across the public sector. This needs to be supported by a clear understanding of what interventions work and an effective means of harnessing the skills, energy and resources of non-public bodies in the process. Taking this into account, the next government must continue funding projects and policies that have clear positive returns on investment.

One such project is YoungBallymun, an area-based prevention and early-intervention strategy working to improve outcomes in education, health and mental health for children, young people and families in Ballymun. This is the type of project that turns the theory of the Nesc report into an everyday reality for those living in that community.

The 10 year-old initiative is based on the premise that everything in a child’s world is connected. The programme works with children and families to ensure all the supports and services are in place at the right times beginning with infancy, through the vital early years, and in every year of primary school – building a strong platform for success in secondary school and beyond.

Better social outcomes

It has had a direct and independently verified impact on the lives of young people. Unfortunately, future funding for this, and similar worthwhile social initiatives, is under threat.

This is short-sighted.

New policies, new ways of working and a fresh approach from our public institutions is required if public resources are to be used effectively to significantly improve social outcomes.

No child should be denied access to services critical to her or his development because of inadequate parental income. This is, of course, crucial for the child but, regardless of our ideology or background, we all have a stake in ensuring future generations are given every opportunity to reach their full potential.

As Nesc argued, the strength of Ireland’s economy and the attractiveness of its society will rest on the same foundation – the human qualities of the people who participate in them. We need to use well-judged investment to improve the quality of life and opportunities for all sections of the population, thereby helping to create a more just and prosperous society.

As we leave the economic crisis behind, we have the right set of circumstances to chart a way forward.

We should aim high. If we make the right choices, we can forge a country characterised by world-class social and economic infrastructure; an Ireland that offers the necessary support and real opportunity to all of its young people.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy is life president of Focus Ireland, the homeless charity; Danny McCoy is chief executive of Ibec, the employers representative body

 



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© 2017 Sister Stanislaus Kennedy
  • The Sanctuary, Stanhope Street, Dublin 7, Ireland
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