Many – too many – of the people I’ve been talking to have lost their job and fear that they won’t find work again unless there is a radical change in economic policy. Many parents and grandparents fear that their young people will be forced to emigrate – and, for some, this is already a reality.
Since this crisis began in 2008, Labour’s focus has been on jobs. We know that unemployment has a devastating impact not only on the individual, but also on his or her community and on the wider economy. Every job lost, or wage cut, means less money going to local businesses – and that, in turn, means more jobs lost and wages cut. That’s why Labour in Government will strive to provide skills and work experience opportunities for those who find themselves unemployed. Labour believes that every single job matters, and we will work to develop new opportunities through trade and innovation, finding new markets, and new goods and services to sell in them.
In terms of reform, it’s no surprise that the single biggest issue on the doorsteps relates to politicians’ pay, allowances and pensions. People are particularly outraged at the Lotto-style payouts received by many retiring TDs and Ministers, and they compare these bonanzas to their own falling incomes. Labour has always been the party of political reform – it was Labour in Government which introduced Standards in Public Office legislation back in the 1990s. Now, Labour is prepared to tackle gravy trains in high places by capping all Ministerial and public sector salaries, imposing corresponding reductions in the salaries of Ministers of State, reducing the number of paid chairs of Oireachtas Committees and abolishing the Oireachtas allowance paid to Ministers who have constituency offices staffed by civil servants. Labour in Government will also ensure that pension and severance arrangements for Ministers are set independently, for example by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Fairness and equality is what Labour is all about. I entered politics out of a deep sense of anger at injustice – especially economic injustice. So I understand the anger of those I meet who see their own incomes being decimated while many of those at the top of Ireland’s economic pyramid escape unscathed. Many of those I meet travelling around the constituency are particularly outraged at the last Government’s decision to cut Child Benefit – an essential support for families and children. Labour knows that families are stretched to the limit and, if in Government, we have pledged that we will not stand for any further attacks on Child Benefit. Labour has also pledged to reform the Universal Social Charge, which is having a dramatic impact on the incomes of many families.
These are just some of the issues on voters’ minds.
A vote for Labour on Friday will be a vote for jobs, reform and fairness. And, if elected, I will put all my experience and commitment to work in the Dail to ensure that we deliver – and that, this time around, everyone shares equally in the fruits of economic recovery.