IRELAND’S economy grew by more than 6% in the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2014 and the likelihood is that the growth for the year as a whole will be close to that figure.
Gross domestic product is set to grow by 5.4% this year, a performance that will see Irish economic growth exceed that of the rest of Europe.
That’s the good news and the Coalition must be given the lion’s share of credit for the turnaround in our economic fortunes. The not so good news, though, is that, in the rush for economic growth, the Government has neglected serious social issues, the most pressing of which involves our ageing population.
During the 1980s we basked in the glory of being ‘the young Europeans’ but in the next decade or two that will change dramatically.
Projections from the Central Statistics Office show that by 2021 the number of elderly people will have grown by 200,000. There will also be around 136,000 people aged 85 or over by 2031 and three out of four people who reach that age will have a disability.
The numbers over 65 will reach 1.4m by 2046, leading to a financial time bomb unless a plan is in place to cope with the dramatic rise in the elderly population.
It doesn’t take an economist to see that the cost implications are huge in terms of pensions, nursing home provision and healthcare.
However, as Social Justice Ireland has pointed out this week, it would be a mistake to concentrate solely on the economic side of things. There are huge social issues to be considered as well.
SJI has published its National Social Monitor for 2015 in which it says not enough is being done to counter chronic social problems.
According to the think- tank, while there are currently positive signs for the country, such as the growth in GDP, a rise in the number of jobs available, and a fall in unemployment, there are also areas of concern.
The monitor also highlights issues such as the need to fund more fully early childhood education and address adult literacy levels. SJI advocates increasing social welfare payments, making tax credits refundable, and introducing a universal State pension.
That, of course, will all cost money, but the real cost could be far more if we fail to recognise that Government intervention is required not just to bolster the economy but society as well.
As Sean Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland put it: “We are focusing far too much on the performance of the economy and not nearly enough on issues such as ageing, social housing, and sustainability.”
The reality is that we live in a society, not just an economy, and it is incumbent on the Government to recognise that and to address social issues to ensure the welfare of all citizens.
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