This week marks the start of the Government’s Stay and Spend scheme introduced to help the hospitality sector by encouraging people to spend on food, drink and accommodation over the autumn, winter and spring months.
While that is a laudable aim, the scheme excludes by design a wide range of people including those on disability benefit, state pension or a variety of Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payments, including Unemployment, Maternity and Paternity Benefit.
The scheme works by allowing taxpayers to claim a tax credit against an Income Tax or USC liability in a year of assessment. Therein lies the problem as anyone earning under €13,000 per annum has no such liability.
While the intention was most likely not discriminatory the reality of is that those from discrete cohorts of society are treated less favourably. This is in sharp contrast to the UKs Eat Out to Help Out Scheme which was a discount applied to the cost of a meal and was universally applicable.
Frankly, it is hard to think of any comparable government initiative that discriminates against such a disadvantaged group in our society. The reaction from Government to this fact being pointed out to them demonstrates their lack of real commitment to tackling social inequality and poverty.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has as part of its remit a mandate to review public policy as it applies to equal treatment of all citizens. This is a clear breach of equality principles with this particularly ill-considered and tone deaf measure. At a minimum a statement from that body is required as to how this passes even the lowest threshold of equality.
The current situation also undermines the ongoing refrain that we are all in this together. We clearly are not. The new government mantra should be, the elderly, disabled and unemployed may be with us always but not when we are eating out.
Support for the hard pressed hospitality sector is vital and encouraging people to spend locally is an important component of any Covid response. However, to exclude those who are already marginalized is a glaring insult that needs to be rectified.