A True Picture is Defined by its’ Frame.

Newspaper Frames

 Frames

 

Consider these two newspaper headings;

1. Work pays better than welfare for most unemployed, ESRI finds.

 

2. Why families are better off staying on social welfare.

 

Both these headings are based on the same report, but offer two differing interpretations of it’s findings. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report, entitled, Welfare Targeting and Work Incentives has been produced as part of a presentation at a budget perspectives conference.

This type of information used by governments to create policies is referred to as expert knowledge. It is knowledge that comes from experts at the top and trickles down through channels into the democratic system.

However, as we have seen in our example above, expert knowledge can be framed in many ways to suit certain, dominant agendas. Recently the approach taken by government politicians has been to demonise job seekers;

3. Joan Burton criticised over welfare ‘lifestyle choice’ comments

 

The first headline challenges the governments’ previously held attitude to job seekers (it will probably alter after their disastrous results in the local elections).

It could be argued that the second newspaper headline frames the research in such a way that it reinforces the governments’ negative attitude towards job seekers (headline number 3).

The two contrasting examples above of how evidence may be framed in the media is not only a rare insight into editorial agendas of certain newspapers.But it also sheds light, here in Ireland, on how a picture created by unbiased, expert knowledge can be framed, and how that knowledge is defined by the way in which it is framed.

 

 

 

Massive 135% increase for Shared Services #budget14

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Shared Services – by far the highest % change

Taken from page 113 of the Budget Expenditure Report 2014, this table details the gross pay bill for the exchequer.

The above screen shot from the report shows a massive 135% increase in estimates between 2013 and 2014 for shared services.

A detailed breakdown of shared services expenditure

A detailed breakdown of shared services expenditure

Here is Ibec’s view of shared services and for balance, here’s Calchas’s post on The Biggest Cause of Shared Services Failure.

A Short Story About Apples & Oranges

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Apples & Oranges

There once was a girl with a thing for fruit.

She also liked the internet.

These were her two passions in life.

She would often blog late into the night with her teeth imbedded in a pink lady, or breakfast with her smart phone while removing the tantalizing peel of an orange.

One evening, while perusing the internet, a strange thing came to her attention. She stopped typing, there was silence, reading and head scratching. She broke the silence with some expletive bleating, which I will not repeat here before attacking the keyboard more frenetic than ever.

The girl typed late into the night and into the next morning. This was repeated for four days. She eventually clicked the blue publish post button in the corner of the screen. Her post was entitled; ‘Why Apples & Oranges Should Remain Different’, with the subtitle; ‘ why new government proposals to amalgamate apples and oranges is all wrong.’

Over the next few days it proved to be her most popular post. Many followers left comments and shared it. Debates, arguments of various intelligence and discussion led to many theories on the governments’ motives.  Links to articles claimed the government minister pushing the oranples policy, as it had become known, hadn’t eaten an apple or an orange since 1988.

Days passed, the girl was distracted, she had forgotten to buy orange juice. On her way home in the car she was about to change the radio station when she recognized the voice being interviewed and paused. It was the minister. She listened intently. Arriving home, she remained in the car until the interview concluded. It was awful; he had come out on top, running circles around the seasoned interviewer, denying the government had even considered amalgamating apples and oranges.

The girl realized her best post ever from the previous week was now redundant. What she predicted hadn’t come to pass, so she concluded her argument must have been flawed.

The boy who’s job it was to monitor social media for the government got his contract renewed.

Some Senators, it seems, make good use of their time in the #seanad #seanref

Is it all the Seanads’ fault? Has it all been a bicameral failure for this small unitary state?

Maybe it has, or perhaps this government will use the abolishment of Seanad Éireann coupled with local government reform as fodder for their next election campaign literature – the one election promise they managed to keep!

I’ve pulled from the archives a speech made by Dr. Mary Robinson on the 24th November 2011 in which she addressed the Seanad on the importance of her experience as a senator in her future roles as the first female President of Ireland and  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I have been asked to share some of my experiences as a Senator and to outline how it contributed to my later work. I am pleased that the first discussion theme chosen by the Seanad relates to human rights and that a former Senator, Dr. Maurice Manning, the chair of the Irish Human Rights Commission, IHRC, has already addressed the Chamber in that context.”

Click here for the entire speech.

Dr. Robinson outlines four main areas where her work in the Seanad contributed to her future work;

1. “My experience of contributing to the legislative process taught me to read closely the small print of legislation and to understand the technical side of drafting, amending and speaking on the different Stages of a Bill before the House. It was an honour as President of Ireland to sign Bills into law or, after consulting the Council of State, to refer some of them to the Supreme Court under Article 26. Obviously, one does not need to be a former Member of the Dáil or Seanad to become Uachtarán na hÉireann, but it was undoubtedly helpful for me, particularly in respect of that function.”

2. “My second reflection is on my first Bill that I sought to promote as a Private Members’ Bill, which was meant to amend the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935 as it related to access to contraceptives

3. “A third point is the ability to table motions on different issues. It allows a very wide range of issues to be raised that otherwise probably would not be raised in the Oireachtas“.

4. “The fourth area, was the opportunity as a member of the Seanad to participate in international issues and discussions and, to some extent, to travel abroad in that context…….That early experience of linking with the issue of apartheid, the need to build up democracy in African countries, the opportunities in the Inter-Parliamentary Union certainly contributed to my growing interest in international human rights, going beyond the human rights at the European level that I was very much engaged in and taking cases to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the court in Luxembourg.

 

So perhaps it’s not the institution here at fault, but rather what an individual does while a member of said institution that is important. I for one, will not be helping FG fulfill this ill-conceived and ill-judged manifesto promise.

Link to the Mary Robinson Foundation.

Time to call in the Civic Reserve

ImageToday, 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?

Social movement in Ireland

This week the Irish Government painted itself into a very big corner. Normally, in this situation, we are accustomed to a response from the Irish Government somewhere along the lines of; what paint, what corner? with not much more than an impotent whimper from the Irish media. This week however it all changed because the push to legislate for the x-case involve’s a devastated family, the Indian Government and the focus of the world ‘s media.

This story has gone world-wide with articles in every language you could ever google translate. Vigils were held for Savita across the country and internationally, figures for yesterday’s march in Dublin were officially recorded as 6,000, but participants and video footage show the figure to be more like 12,000. A Sinn Féin motion next week in the Dáil will seek answers and legislation which is 20 years overdue, but already the Government  T.D’s are trying to tiptoe across the wet floor; refusing to tackle this issue through cross-party co-operation.

We’ve seen all this before, with government back stepping and making excuses like a wrong turn in Soho, but  this issue also has the potential to open up the debate on social movement in Ireland. We would expect that any liberal democracy worth it’s salt has a healthy, thriving social movement sector, with citizens free to express anger or support for a whole array of issues that affect society; an integral part of the democratic process you might say. But on closer inspection and through some comparison, we soon find that not all democracies facilitate the development of social movement as much as they could.

There are four interchangeable values that describe how a political regime treats social movement; inclusive, exclusive. passively and actively (fig 1).

 

FIG 1

 

Conditions required for the Development of Social Movement in Liberal Democracies

 

 

These terms are all pretty self-explanatory, but to demonstrate;

at the red end of the scale I’ve placed the most unfavourable conditions for social movement; that is, a political regime that is actively exclusive. The UK, particularly during the Thatcher years was and is active in its exclusion of social movement, seeing it as socially costly and a threat to economic efficiency.

Next up the scale we have passively inclusive, the U.S.A. The government itself has little input or support but pluralism allows social movements to develop, form lobby groups, contest elections etc.

A country which is actively inclusive would be Norway. The state does intervene and get  involved in social movements often organising social concerns itself.

The reason why you’ll find passively exclusive at the green end of the scale is because this is a scale showing the most favourable conditions for social movements to grow and develop. In order for that to happen the social movement needs to be independent of government (excluded)  but allowed to develop and find solutions to social issues ( passively excluded). These conditions can be found in Germany and are credited for facilitating the development of contemporary environmentalism achieving a high level of ecological modernization.

So to place Ireland on the scale at present, with government and most media coverage intolerant and dismissive, the type of regime we live with is actively excluding social movement. Already Government T.D’s and some journalists are attacking the Women’s Rights social movement, in particular the action x movement which began over 20 years ago and was highlighted again this week due to tragic circumstances. The story broke in Wednesday’s Irish Times, with a comprehensive account of what had unfolded in an Irish hospital by Savita’s husband. When she pleaded for a termination, she was told this was a catholic country. This was dropped from the Irish media coverage in the following days, excluded in an RTE Six One news report on a piece of audio from Savita’s husband, which was included on the Channel 4 news at 7pm that same evening.

The political regime in this country must change, the way we do things in this country must change, and it won’t happen at the ballot box, as we are so often told. It will and can only happen with you demanding change now.

 

 

Cherishing the Wealthly

The 2010 study of the Irish Health Behaviour in School – Aged Children (HBSC) is an interesting read, as it provides a barometer on how various government policies and initiatives are reaching and influencing the lives of the nations’ children. More importantly, it illustrates inequalities that go against the hopes and aspirations contained in the Proclamation; that is; to cherish all of the nations children equally.

A quick read through of the report stops suddenly when confronted with the statistic that 21% of children when asked the question, ‘have you ever gone to bed or school hungry?’ reported yes as their answer. That is an increase  from the 2006 report of 17% (still an uncomfortable figure, possibly evidence, for those who need it, that the Celtic Tiger ‘boom’ years did not reach everyone). So when confronted with an answer like that, it begs, the question why? Why has there been such an increase in the statistics over that four year period and what can be done about it.

Over the recent years, with increased financial hardship and Austerity Budgets, families have had less money to cover basic necessities, economising on food bills to cover energy costs and mortgages etc. Even allowing for the fact that a lot of parents themselves would go hungry, before allowing their children to do so, means that these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, when we look at families as a whole. Sadly, the most vocal people, especially in the media, maintain there is no problem because they cannot see it. These figures tell different, with recent budgets favouring the wealthy, and attacking struggling families. This year’s St. Vincent de Paul pre-budget submission uses the following case study as an example;

Books or food?
Derek contacted the SVP on a Friday evening when his family had €3 to last them until the next week. He had to pay school expenses for his three children which meant the family had no money for food that week.
The SVP organised an immediate visit with food vouchers so that they could eat until their social welfare payment came through.’

 An increase, can be turned into a decrease if there is the will to do so. Around the time of the last budget, this problem had been foreseen by Sinn Féin through their proposed provision of school meals in their pre-budget submission, (p26) which would at least take some pressure of parents, decreasing the risk of children either going to bed or to school hungry. That is one targeted and costed solution for struggling families. 

Nobody believed that rescuing the wealthy of this nation was going to be easy, but surely this is too high a price to pay. I say rescuing the wealthy, on purpose, because up until now that has been and will continue to be government policy unless you change it.