Public Works Programme

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While you don’t often hear it, a range of respected and authoritative international agencies have complimented and endorsed the Irish government for taking the right actions on the macro economic front. Compared with a number of other nations with similar open economies, Ireland has been remarkably successful in reassuring markets and the international community that we are getting through the downturn and returning to growth.

What you do hear are the regular opinion poll results showing how remarkably unsuccessful the same government has been in reassuring people here at home of the same thing.

One of the probable contributory factors behind this paradox of perception is that much of the progress made has been intangible. The progress made in recent times has been on GDP balance sheets, whereas the job losses, the shop and the factory closures have been all too painfully tangible for families across the country. The announcement of each job loss means a loss of hope and of confidence for another family and community.

As I have discussed here before, the commodity we most need is confidence. People have to start believing again. People have to start investing again. People have to start spending again.

We need to restore hope and confidence if we want to see these three things happening.  This will not be achieved just by rhetoric – it requires real activity on the ground. We should be looking at creating a massive scheme to generate activity targeted at those who have been most hit by the downturn.

The devastation and trauma which unemployment can herald has been measured and the findings are startling. A detailed study of the recession and job losses experienced in Japan conducted by the Japanese Centre for Socio-Economic Development found that those who experienced long periods of unemployment in their early career in the 1990s now account for almost 60% of all cases of depression and stress.

We are facing a similar situation now if we do not address immediately and dramatically the plight of those made jobless by this recession. There are a number of good schemes in place, but their scale and reach has not succeeded in conveying a sense of confidence and hope.

We need to think more creatively and on a greater scale. We need to think bigger. In this context, while the times are different, we could do worse than learn look at one of the principle actions taken by President Roosevelt in 1930’s America to give hope and create activity for those on the dole. His New Deal created Works Progress Administration which put millions of people back to work on public works programmes and became the biggest single employer in the USA, employing over 3million people at its height.

While the idea and notion of public works programme have developed considerably in the intervening decades, the broad principles underlying the establishment of the WPA could have some application here.

We should be seriously considering a schemePublic work schemes here where 100,000 people currently on the dole can be paid an extra €100 per week for the next 12 months to undertake vital work in their community. The work should match the people to their existing skills and training – whether that is in IT or building

In one swoop almost 25% of those signing on would be given back some hope and confidence. The money – about half a billion euro – could come from the existing capital budget. It would put an addition €10million into circulation each week to be spent on basic consumer goods at a time when our retail sector needs a boost.

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