Today, on the front page of the Irish Times, we are informed that the goal posts are being moved again as 40,000 medical cards are being cut and more drugs on the scheme being delisted, this is coupled already with the increase in prescription charges from 50 cent to 1 euro 50 cent per item. This re-writing and re-working of scheme guidelines is becoming common place as this FG/Lab Government becomes more adept at making stealth cuts & department savings below the radar.
Many will be aware of the mess made when student grants came under the control of SUSI at the start of this academic year. Halfway through the year there are still students waiting for grant approval and payment, with some third level institutes compelled to provide food boxes to hungry students. The Government took their PR advice, and who wouldn’t with the price they pay for it, and blamed the students for not sending in all the relevant documents with their initial application. Silly students, how did they ever complete their Leaving Cert if they can’t follow simple instructions on an application form.
However, students told a different story, with many keeping records of their correspondence and phone calls to SUSI including the names of the civil servants they spoke to on each of the occasions they contacted the body. Some students were asked for the same documentation on numerous occasions to be sent in, others were advised on the phone to SUSI to ignore/not ignore letters etc, you get the picture. I know of many more examples where students have done what was asked of them only to find out after months of processing that last years guidelines no longer apply, even for 2nd and 3rd year students.
The bureatic process is designed and supposed to be equitable and unbiased system, operating in a sterile environment free from political influence. The application forms, guidelines and civil servants are all expected to work together to produce the desired outcome respecting citizens rights and entitlements. Which leaves us to surmise that the problem with SUSI lies in this process. Students I have spoken to claim the application form was insufficent, it didn’t clearly state all the documents that would be needed. The guidelines were not based on common sense, and were therefore difficult to apply. One student was asked to prove residency with a letter from their secondary school, only after this was supplied, the student was told this evidence that no, a passport was the only way to prove residency. The student in question had weeks wasted, which turned into months because the student in question had no passport, forced to apply for one to complete the SUSI application.
It is safe to argue that government schemes guidelines have either changed or the method of application has been altered, and all this under the radar (conformation of this can only be made off the record, of course, so it is just one theory). SUSI is not the only scheme to cause problems for applicants, many schemes in the past two/three years have become very frustrating for applicants, with delays over a year in the case of invalidity pensions and subsequent appeals.
So what can the electorate do to register its dissatisfaction? Write a letter? Ring Joe? No, not if a clear signal is to be sent to the Government. Social media is a useful tool for registering annoyance or highlighting broken promises, but it exhausts our civic reserves.
Civic reserves usually fill as government policy hurts and discriminates;
“some scholars argue that citizens, by exhausting their civic reserves, will not have any resources for mobilizing when really critical issues emerge” (Qvortrup, 2011)
So we have looked at some current examples of unfair and unjust cuts which are happening just under the radar in government schemes and hardship and frustration created through differing methods of application and misapplication of department guidelines. It is happening so the variable in this equation is you, what are you going to do about it?