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Jim O'Brien: It's time to learn the lessons of CAP and provide a basic living income for everyone


Covid-19 testing at Croke Park. Photo: PA

Covid-19 testing at Croke Park. Photo: PA


Covid-19 testing at Croke Park. Photo: PA

We are living in extraordinary times. One wonders will the world be the same when the days of Covid-19 disappear in the rear-view mirror.

Of course things will have changed: lives will be lost and the dynamics of families, friendships, organisations and businesses will be forever altered.

The whole world of work, health-care and welfare could be completely reshaped. The reality of home-working will, perhaps, be revisited based on the experience of these days.

Health services and health systems may well be re-imagined when, for example, questions will be asked about our tendency to rush to A&E with every complaint. A few days into the crisis, the numbers on hospital trolleys in our A&E departments dropped from the hundreds to the tens.

But will anything fundamentally change aside from a temporary rearrangement of priorities, as happens in wartime? The precedents are not good, and previous experience doesn't bode well for those hoping this virus will rearrange the world order.

Look at the experience of women during and after WWI and WWII. With men fighting at the front women were recruited to undertake jobs in factories, transport and policing, and they took on tasks traditionally regarded as the preserve of men.

But when the wars finished, things reverted to the way they were before and women were sent back to the cradle and the kitchen.

Even 70 years later, the glass ceiling is as robust as ever, and there is still a gender gap in many wage packets.

Stuff of utopia

Our government and governments around the world are now doing extraordinary things like guaranteeing wage and welfare supports that were regarded as the stuff of utopia only a few wet weeks ago.

The fact that so many people are affected personally, interpersonally, financially, socially and economically by this crisis means that a whole re-imagination of the way we conduct the entire gambit of our affairs has to happen.

Profit and inexorable growth have been forced into the back seat while public health and well-being and the common good are in the driving seat.

The policies and practices being implemented in the face of Covid-19 are not as extraordinary or as novel as they may seem at first glance. Farmers are quite familiar with them. The Common Agriculture Policy is a child of WWII and the hunger that followed it.

The emergence of the EEC and the EU are the political expressions of Europe's promise that it would never go to war again and that the people of Europe would be never be hungry again. In that regard the CAP was put in place so that Europeans would never lose the capacity to feed themselves.

This system of farm supports means that farmers have a basic income and can build on that income depending on their particular farm enterprise, their size of holding and the location of the holding. I know it is more complex, but that is the essence of it.

There is no reason we cannot expand the CAP model to include everybody and ensure a basic living income for all citizens.

This will not prevent anyone from seeking to build substantially on that income. At the same time it will protect from poverty those whose chosen way of life or circumstances mean that a basic income is vital to sustaining them.

I can hear people ask, who is going to pay for this? Who pays for the CAP? The taxpayers of Europe, both individuals and corporations.

The most important thing that will get us through Covid-19 crisis will be social solidarity, people acting in consort for the good of all. In responding to the current crisis, the government has chosen to put the state's coffers and the state's capacity at the service of social solidarity so that collectively we will get through this.

It is to be hoped that when the crisis passes, and we look back at the practices and policies that got us through it, we will remember what stood us in good stead in terms of a solid public purse, good public services and deep social solidarity.

Let those who pride themselves in shrinking public services and cutting taxes take heed of what is happening.

Twice in just over a decade the public purse and our public institutions have been called on to protect us from the forces of unbridled greed and a pandemic, in that order.

The sacred market was nowhere to be seen.

When peace returns and things settle down let's hope strong public institutions and social solidarity don't get the same treatment women got after the wars.

Indo Farming