The Human Cost of Cuts to Public Services - Thoughts of a Public Sector Worker


The following text was sent to us by a reader who works in a social welfare office. It illustrates just one aspect of the human cost of the Croke Park agreement and of the furhter deterioration that will occur under the "extension", if it is passed. 

Life in a social welfare office can be heartbreaking sometimes. Sitting there, behind the glass, you have a very limited range of available responses available to a broad expanse of problems. As the crisis deepens, people’s problems become more serious and varied and our responses and the time available to respond narrow.  

At the same time, despite wishing you could help more, you are often the one left sitting taking abuse from people who are frustrated at a system that is letting them down. Meanwhile, the people who have created this situation never have to face the everyday reality of the fall out of their actions.

The social welfare office that I work in is one of the busiest in the country. The first Croke Park agreement has had a noticeable impact on our ability to provide services to the public. Waiting times have significantly increased before people even get to submit their claims for social welfare. After that they can be waiting months for a decision on their claim. This is not through any fault of the staff. It is a direct result of staff that are out on long term illness, maternity, on shorter working years etc. not being replaced. When staff leave, or get transferred, it can take months to replace them or they are not replaced at all. They are sometimes only replaced by temp staff, who the rest of us have barely enough time to train in, and even then, because they are temps, they can be gone in a few months and you have to start the process all over again. This means some public hatches are closed and there is no cover when someone goes out sick or has a family emergency. When extra work is taken on by the office, we have to make the resources we have stretch further. If the “extension” is passed and implemented, this situation can only deteriorate.

When the government talk about “savings”, the human cost is never mentioned. The people who are getting evicted because of a delay in their rent allowance application, the people who are telling social welfare staff they are going to commit suicide because they have no money and can’t live, the people who are ashamed to be claiming social welfare because they are being made to feel like spongers, the people having nervous breakdowns; this is what we see on a daily basis. These are the people who it will be more and more difficult to help, and that takes its toll on us too.  We, the staff, them, the people who come to us for help, to the number crunchers, we are just statistics. We are just another way to make sure the people who caused the economic crisis don’t have to pay for it.

People’s lives are being destroyed. The country is being destroyed. It’s time we said enough is enough. It’s time we fought back. We can start by voting no to the Croke Park extension, and if they don’t back down, we will have to strike. 

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This article is the full version of the extract published in
Workers Solidarity 129, April May 2013