A New Social Contract is Needed in the National Battle for Recovery from Covid-19.
20 July 2020
*Published in the Sunday Independent - 19/07/2020.
Sub-heading: We Must Think Big To Build An Economy That Works For Us All.
We can’t go back to business as usual.
The tired toolbox of ideas Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are planning for the July stimulus won’t cut it.
This accident-prone government wasted no time announcing their own mini job creation package this week; 17 special advisors to share between the three party leaders in government.
Now, they urgently need to turn their attention to getting people back to work.
With over 800,000 people on some form of State support, the July Stimulus must think and act big to stave off a chronic and scarring collapse.
The old pressure valve of emigration is closed and relying heavily on exports just won’t work in this uncertain international climate.
But we can chart a new direction for our economy if we seize the opportunity.
The Labour Party doesn’t just shout about “change”. We provide real solutions for real change.
That’s why we have set five clear tests for the government’s July Stimulus.
Firstly, the stimulus must be big enough to make an impact and put real money into people’s pockets.
We want a stimulus package of at least €10 billion over the next two years.
A €10 increase in weekly welfare payments combined with a 2% headline VAT cut will benefit those families who need it most and our main street businesses in towns and villages across Ireland.
The lockdown has hit our young people, women and those in precarious work hard.
It has also shown us the essential value of everyday low-paid heroes who keep our country running in good times and bad.
Students working 30-hour retail shifts just to make the rent; migrant care workers earning little more than the minimum wage; new mothers juggling work and childcare.
Underpaid and undervalued workers have become our frontline heroes. For how long, they might ask? We cannot forget them now.
If we really mean what we said during the worst of the pandemic then we must foster good quality, secure jobs.
That’s our second stimulus test. We cannot go back to the “any job will do” mentality.
Our third test is that the plan must deliver a new economic model - one based on lifelong learning, caring and sustainability. What does this mean in practice?
One of our greatest strengths as a country is our educated workforce but too many have been left behind.
We need a new deal for a new generation so that every person under-25 is guaranteed decent work or meaningful training.
Let’s triple investment in State training services and use the €1 billion surplus in the National Training Fund to upskill and retrain our young people for the jobs of the future.
We also need a caring economy, starting with an extension of maternity leave for new mothers and a roll out of a State-led childcare model.
If more of us are to work remotely, then employees need new rights to preserve their work-life balance.
Finally, our new economic model must be low carbon, with massive retrofitting programmes for homes, businesses and public buildings.
If we are serious about taking on climate change, we need to use our State-owned enterprises like Bord na Móna to create thousands of new sustainable jobs.
Our fourth test is that the stimulus must reduce economic inequality.
We must save as many businesses as possible.
But when millions in grants and loans are announced next week it can’t be a case of no strings attached.
Conditionality attached to public monies will be key to shaping our new economy. At a minimum, workers in supported businesses should be paid a living wage.
The final test is investment in our public services. Our problems before Covid-19 still remain.
The stimulus must fast-track public homes and reshape our childcare, education and transport systems.
We were able to nationalise private hospitals when we feared the worst, so now let’s build the capacity we need in our hospitals and retain those healthcare workers who returned to help in our hour of need.
All that is missing is the political will.
The July Stimulus is the first big test of this new government’s mettle.
It must be the first step towards a new social contract and an economy that works for all of us.
Ged Nash TD for Louth & Meath East - Labour Spokesperson for Finance & Public Expenditure