These are testing times for anyone who puts heart in the notion of a welfare state.
Take Joe Hockey’s recent comments.
The opposition finance spokesman may be seeking help in dislodging his foot from his mouth after his recent reference to Australia’s ‘entitlement system’, made while he was visiting London.
With Hockey adding that “the age of unlimited and unfunded entitlement to government services and income support is over”, the public was left with little doubt as to what area will come between the crosshairs should an Abbott government take office.
For now, at least, cuts to Australian welfare allowances fall into the realm of the hypothetical. There is certainly no economic imperative to do so.
Lamentably, this cannot be said for welfare policy in Ireland.
A decade ago, the notion of limiting Irish citizens’ access to pensions would have been sacrilege.
In the new Irish reality, where austerity measures creep like lichen throughout the system, it’s become fair game.
How much is Ireland willing to cede to make the bailout work? We gain new, often uncomfortable, answers by the week.
Changes to the Irish State Pension – already in effect – have doubled the number of welfare contributions needed to make a successful new claim, for people born after April 6, 1947.
You will now need 520 social welfare contributions to make a successful new claim, as opposed to 260 in the past.
This is detailed in our news report here.
There have been some whimpers of discontent about what this will mean, particularly from Age Action, an advocacy group for the elderly community in Ireland.
Their spokesman Eamon Timmins said the changes could result in up to €1,500 reduction in income a year for some people “for the rest of their lives”.
Here in Australia, the 3,100 people already in receipt of the Irish State Pension will feel no damage and need not worry.
Yet this will have a particular impact on a demographic of Irish people abroad, who – given their time spent working outside the country – have built up less social welfare credits in Ireland.
If you were born on or after April 6, 1947, and have come to, and stayed in, Australia since the mid 1970s then you are looking at a significant reduction in your Irish State pension.
Pensions are not a matter that most 20- to 30-year-old Irish citizens resident in Australia will have given a whole lot of thought to. Many may be too busy enjoying themselves.
Still, theses changes should be heeded.
Some may argue that Irish citizens living abroad should not be receiving such pensions in the first place.
Such talk, viewed in light of the federal opposition spokesman’s recent criticism of entitlements, can be dubbed as Hockeynomics.
What’s catching about the pension changes and their impact upon emigrants is how it strikes to the very core of the Irish Government’s duality in its treatment of emigrants.
The elderly emigrant is the sacred cow of governmental utterances on emigrant welfare – with ministers often heard trotting out soundbites about their respect and admiration, in particular, for the Irish who went to London in the 1950s.
Yet here we see a government policy that will only leave the next generation of elderly Irish emigrant worse off.
While it might be years – or even a decade – before the impact is felt to an acute extent, Irish welfare bureaux across Australia will be the first groups to bear witness to how this will hurt elderly Irish here in Australia. What chance is there of an accompanying boost in funding for such groups, when this occurs?
The can has not been kicked down the road. It has been punted over the horizon.