During the early years of the twenty first century the Irish economy was booming. After decades of poverty and emigration Ireland had completed a remarkable turn around. Between 1995-2000 the Irish economy expanded at a rate 9.4%, this slowed in the early twenty first century but continued at a level of 5.9% until 2008. In this time Ireland went from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one to one of the wealthiest.
After many years of weak regulation in the financial, property and political systems in 2008 the Irish economy collapsed. This resulted in private banking debt being made sovereign and the eventual bail out by the IMF, ECB and EU. Since then we have had five years of annual budget cuts, economic stagnation and rising unemployment.
Social Workers in Ireland work on the frontline with the most marginalized people in our society. They have seen the impact on the individuals, communities and families they work with.
One fostering link worker described it as
“Death by 1000 cuts-Many Small Measures impact on quality of service offered and diminish our carers sense of feeling valued, respected and supported”
There has been an increased focus on recruiting foster carers whilst the support and provisions available for them has not increased. For example only 65% carers had a link worker available to them. This along with larger case loads and reduced travel costs means that foster families receive less support and fewer home visits.
Services for children and families such as speech and language and early interventions have been curtailed. Community Based supports such as family support and child focused therapeutic interventions have been reduced and there are longer waiting lists. Basic elements of social services are being cut and are not being replaced. Along with the reduction in recourse there is an increasing focus on accountability. As the size of case loads increase Social Workers are spending more of their time on crisis cases.
For Probation officers working with offenders means they work with people with significantly higher than average experiences of unemployment, poor physical and mental health and addiction. They are also significantly below the general population in relation to education and training achievements. Austerity and cuts have further impacted on this already marginalized group.
Social workers in primary care have found significant direct cuts in social welfare benefits They have found that levels of poverty and unemployment are increasing. Resulting in higher levels of stress and increasing instances of mental health problems. A range of indirect cuts on benefits such as rent relief have a disproportionate effect on the most marginalized members of our society.
One mother of a child with Autism who was on a waiting list for services stated that “they told me he qualifies now but by the time he gets to the top of the list he won’t”.
Austerity has in many ways been most painful on the oldest members of our society. Day care facilities and respite are becoming more and more difficult to access. This results in higher levels of stress for carers. A reduction in home help hours and long term funding packages means that support for older people in our society is reducing.
Social Workers often work with the most vulnerable members of society, as a result we often see the human impact of budget cuts before others. On a daily basis Social Workers advocate on behave of their clients and try to access resources for the people we work with.
As Social workers we have the tools and the resources to ease the burden of austerity and draw attention to its impact on individuals.
The International Federation of Social Workers has called for the socialy just regulation of economies. They argue that increased regulation of the financial system would produce more fairness and more equality amongst the people of Europe.
As Social Workers we believe in the inherent strengths and capabilities of all individuals, families and communities. Social Workers throughout Ireland are using innovative practice to reduce the burden of austerity and produce the best outcomes for their clients.
Social workers are redefining their work priorities and streamlining processes to reduce inefficiencies within the system. Social Workers are working with their team to develop and implement better outcomes for the individuals they work with.
Working alongside members of communities and voluntary agencies social workers are helping to develop strengths within the localities in which they work. In recent times a group of Irish Social Workers campaigned successfully alongside their service user to reverse a cut in home help hours.
On a macro level Social Workers believe that long term planned and sustainable growth can allow people to live in equitable, stable and coherent societies. Societies should not be judged solely on their level of economic growth. Ireland during the early years of the twenty first century was a highly unequal society, with little regulation on our banking system and a culture based on consumerism.
Rather than judge our country on the accumulation of wealth we should judge ourselves on how we treat the most marginalised and voiceless people amongst us. The policy of Austerity and budget cuts backs throughout Europe has disproportionately affected this group. We join the international federation of Social Workers in calling for an end to Austerity and the implementation of economic policies that reduce poverty and inequality.