Budget must meet basic fairness standards if government wants people to stand by it
16 July 2014
Access to justice campaign group FLAC is today calling on the state to produce a budget that people can tolerate by applying basic human rights standards in how it decides to allocate spending.
Presenting its pre-budget submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure & Reform today, FLAC is arguing that using a human rights budgeting approach would result in a process that is proportionate, transparent and fair for people in Ireland.
The organisation’s submission focuses on how best to protect vulnerable groups in particular by ensuring the state adheres to basic standards set down in international law.FLAC is proposing to the Committee that meeting these equality and human rights standards would mean the government commits to ensuring that no-one ever falls below the minimum core income and supports which are required to live life in dignity.
In particular, FLAC suggests that such standards would form a process for identifying the impact of any proposed cuts on affected groups before the decisions are set in stone and which includes dialogue with those most likely to be affected.
“If those most heavily affected by the recession could at least see that our government demonstrably tried its best, using objective standards, to ensure that its budget decisions were fair and proportionate, it might make those decisions easier to bear,” commented FLAC Advocacy & Policy Officer Yvonne O’Sullivan, who is presenting the submission at Leinster House this afternoon.
FLAC recently launched its annual report for 2013 that shows the legal rights group directly helped some 27,546 people around the country with legal queries in 2013. It is currently coordinating a Shadow Report ahead of the Irish state’s country examination next year under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
- We offer free, confidential basic legal information on our lo-call telephone line at 1890 350 250, and free legal advice through a nationwide network of volunteer evening advice centres (see http://www.flac.ie/help for a full listing). FLAC also campaigns for legal reforms on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
- Ms O’Sullivan will present FLAC’s pre-budget submission 2015 to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure & Reform today from 2pm to 4:30 in Committee Room 4. The full text of the submission is at http://www.flac.ie/publications/pre-budget-submission-2015/
- FLAC has also issued a briefing document on ‘Rights in a Recession’ which is available at http://www.flac.ie/publications/flacsheet-on-realising-rights-in-a-recession/
- A summary of its pre-budget proposals is as follows:
The government should
- Provide a guaranteed basic level of subsistence – in other words, a social protection floor - that will allow all persons to live their lives in dignity;
- Carry out impact assessments of budget proposals BEFORE the decisions are made and not after, as is currently the case;
- Ensure moretransparency, accountability and participation in the budget process by using a human rights framework. This also includes greater participation & input from stakeholders – including groups directly affected by decisions as well as the valuable expertise of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission;
- Make sure that Budgets are democratically and openly debated and discussed in the Oireachtas – with adequate time and based on up-to-date, understandable legislative material;
- Reduce expenditure on social protection through greater efficiencies, rather than cutting payments to vulnerable groups. Systemic reforms in the appeals process, such as improving decision-making at first instance, could yield savings. Here too FLAC remains concerned that decision-making must meet basic human rights standards of fair procedures and transparency;
- Alleviate concerns on the recovery of overpayments by respecting the right to a minimum income. Right now, the Department is able to unilaterally recover up to 15% of a basic social welfare payment. This puts a person at risk of dropping below the state’s own standard for basic minimum income of €186 per week. FLAC recommends the implementation of a robust appeals procedure and clear guidelines on how a person’s circumstances are taken into account in his/her capacity to repay.
- Lastly, reinstate and put on a statutory footing the Lough Credit Union Repayment Scheme. This was a broadly successful initiative that assisted vulnerable MABS clients without bank accounts to access credit. Its termination was a step backwards and should be reversed.