Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Married to Welfare

Imagine there was just one lifestyle change, a single, simple social practice that could eradicate child poverty almost completely. And it wouldn't cost the taxpayer a cent. I would imagine that any organisation concerned with social justice and the eradication of poverty would champion such a practice from the rooftops. Especially an organisation founded, operated and funded by Christian organisations. Yet I would be wrong.

For we have such an organisation - Social Justice Ireland (née CORI) - run by a priest and a nun, and yet they have no interest in the social practice I am talking about, namely: marriage. Their latest report - More Taxes, More Government Please (sorry, that should read: The Future of the Welfare State) mentions marriage twice. Once as a footnote, and the second time as part of the phrase 'gay marriage'. And that's it. God barely gets mentioned either, but that's their issue, not mine.

But what is my issue - and yours if you pay tax - is that the authors of the report are wilfully blind to the potential for marriage to reduce poverty. Take the recent ESRI report on poverty trends in Ireland. The single biggest factor influencing the incidence of poverty is the presence or otherwise of both parents. The report finds that:
Household composition is also a strong predictor of consistent poverty. Risks of consistent poverty among children in lone parent families are even more pronounced than those in the income poverty models. These children are 15 times more likely to be in consistent poverty than children living in two adults plus one or two children households.

Despite the reduction in both measures, children in lone parent families in particular still had a very high likelihood of being in poor households compared to other children. Moreover, demographic trends mean that the number of lone parent families increased over the period, as did the concentration of child poverty among lone parent families. By 2007, children in lone parent families accounted for 65 per cent of children in consistent poverty. These results suggest that reducing the disadvantages experienced by lone parent families will be crucial for tackling child poverty.
Now the SJI solution to 'reducing the disadvantages' is to take more money from taxpayers in order to provide a Basic Income that will lift everyone out of poverty. A rising tide raising all boats, if you will. Strangely, for an organisation that waxes eloquently about the numerous failings of money-obsessed, free market capitalism, they do seem to have a singularly strong attachment to the old paper-and-coin stuff themselves when it comes to solving all the problems that they see.

Bizarrely, despite mounting evidence in Ireland and abroad that marriage is one of the most powerful anti-poverty practices in the world, SJI would prefer to completely ignore the matter. Better to tax affluent and not-so-affluent workers it seems (and their capitalist employers, of course) than actually advocate that would-be parents make a wiser choice about their future family status instead.

The SJI report suffers from many (many) other inadequacies - their ideological bias can best be thought of as a form of 'socialism with group hugs' - but that can be forgiven to the extent that they wear their ideology on their sleeves. Less forgiveable is a deliberate, PC-driven blindness to the role of marriage simply because it would demand judging some lifestyle choices better than others. Or treating grown ups as independent adults rather than welfare supplicants, if you will.

And sadly, they'll probably prevail with their doomed-to-fail policy ambitions. Get your chequebooks out...


  1. What I always found particularly galling was that this organisation was automatically accorded the status of 'social partner' in the oligarchy that has been dividing up the spoils in this country for the last 30 years. As you so rightly said, an organisation run by a priest and a nun, but they had the inside track on the implementation of economic policy when the representatives of hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens couldn't even get past the gates!

  2. Em... I wasn't aware that social justice organisations had the power to literally legislate marriage to people who are not inclined to it. I see that you have a post above about the tragic poverty in Dublin's inner city - do you really think that social justice groups have the power to legislate marriage to these unfortunate people? Somehow I don't think you do.

    So I must assume that this is a moral rather than an economic or policy argument. I presume that you're taking a jab at the Catholic representatives from a moral perspective. Yet I think it's safe to assume that these people gave up trying to moralise Irish society's problems away when they joined a social justice group that pushes for policy reform. Maybe they think that there are economic and social issues that effect marriage/divorce rates, for example. Serious social scientists might agree with them on that one...

    If any of my assumptions are correct then I must conclude that your post wasn't so much a serious criticism as a moral attack upon an institution that you don't agree with. Maybe you could make this clearer next time by not masking your criticisms in policy terms (particularly pie-in-the-sky policy terms which are impossibly unrealistic...).

  3. @Anonymous
    What a strange response to my post. If an organisation (SJI or others) advocates the use of taxpayers money as the main (or only) solution to the problems of disadvantaged groups then they must prove that the absence of sufficient money is both the cause of and the cure for any group's disadvantages. But they don't.

    It's a bit like advocating that the impoverished family of a chronic gambler simply need higher welfare payments, whilst ignoring the behaviour of gambler.

    Same goes for single parenthood - becoming pregnant nowadays outside of marriage is (overwhelmingly) a matter of choice. Presumably you agree? So if someone is making a choice that almost certainly guarantees poverty for them and their children, would you not expect an organisation concerned with poverty (especially one headed by Catholic clergy) to advise young women to make wiser choices in order to avoid the dire circumstances that will follow? But they don't. Instead they want to throw money at the consequences only. Not their money, of course, but your money and mine.

    I think that's an immoral thing to do.


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