This article endeavours to critically examine the ethical foundations upon which a basis for provision of social services in Ireland is founded and established and the paper will restrict the boundaries of discussion to poverty alleviation and health service delivery in Ireland. Developed nations are faced with a major challenge of dealing with the issue of poverty due to the high disparity in wealth distribution. In 2004, the UN indicated that Ireland needed to address the issue of poverty alleviation seriously despite being placed among the top ten highly developed nations of the world (McLaughlin and Monteith 2004). It is important to understand that there is a direct relation between values and actions that is when one performs an action ,the actor and the action are judged according to the values expressed through the action (Rawls, 1971).
This kind of approach care service delivery creates a welfare system which must have a moral justification. In view of this, the paper will attempt to offer a justification to this welfare system on the perspective of moral philosophy. Here, we find that rather than mere fiscal considerations, moral principles are imperative and pertinent to establishment of such a welfare system which offers public assistance or any service meant for public good. The paper therefore attempts to justify establishment of such a system by referring to two moral principles: utilitarianism and
Overview of the issue of welfare system in Ireland
In Ireland, the Public Health Service is one of the bodies sanctioned by the government to provide social services for the children (particularly those regarded to be at risk e.g. those children experiencing deprivation and those seeking asylum) and for other individuals or groups that need the social work services. The mode of service delivery is through localisation of service delivery centres by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The task of social work service delivery is handled by groups of social workers who work as teams in collaboration with individuals, groups as well as families that are undergoing both social and emotional difficulties. The objective and aim of the service is thus to facilitate the process of change among the affected people and assist them in arriving at decisions that will bolster their quality of life. The social work is also responsible for identification of options and support steps which can help in advancing social policy and service delivery.
Lack of policies to guide in the task of child poverty alleviation had been earlier associated with time lag in terms of the implementation of the strategies which seriously needed measures to be incorporated so that improvements could be made in the system. Some of the measures that were introduced to minimise on the delays and improve on the efficiency of service delivery to bolster alleviation of child poverty through provision of health services was introduction of APMS (the Alternative Provider Medical Services).
The APMS have been used to provide essential services, offer other supplementary especially where the other service providers opt out and they also give out of hours services. The measures that were introduced improved the service delivery in that they led to improved capacity by making it possible to serve more people than before. The measures also eased the workload especially on those practices which were previously overburdened. The measures have also made it possible to address need in those areas which were historically under-provided. Through measures like contracting it is possible to re-provide services that are direly needed for human betterment as mentioned above and it is as well easier to provide services, through localisation of service delivery, to improve access to the to the services which will ultimately enable provision of services to a particular population that is in need of the services.
Utilitarianism and Contractarianism
According to the principle of utilitarianism, the basis of sanctioning any morally right act or institution is the ability of the act or institution to produce the greatest good to the greatest number of people possible in the society. This concept was developed by British thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill among others. The concept can be used effectively to justify the moral right of providing such services as those that help in poverty alleviation. Thus advancing the interests of other people who are disadvantaged in a way is squarely in line with the principle of producing the greatest good to the greatest number of people in the society. Poverty is a good illustration of disadvantage in the society and those who experience it may need help in making the case for their eligibility for a given service or benefit which may be of significance in relieving their poverty. Poverty is not one of the situations one would be happy to be in. through alleviation of poverty and deprivation; it is possible to make the disadvantaged individuals just like the rest of the population of the country. In the year 2004, the government of Ireland intensified the poverty alleviation initiative through localisation of services and employment of social work providers to all public hospitals who would be responsible for providing services to those individuals who were need; for instance asylum seeking children and those individuals who are in situations of deprivation. If an establishment of social solidarity is sought after in the utilitarian philosophy, the response will be that a summing up of individual utilities is considered in its appraisal of policy and action. Therefore, in contrast with egoism, the concept of utilitarianism can be said to be an altruistic principle in that its main concern is not just the utility of the single individual but of the entire society or a greater part of the society or population to an equal extent.
Nevertheless, given that the idea of greater good to the greatest number of individuals is based on a criterion of summative social satisfaction (aggregate social satisfaction), designing institutions with this principle may not be very easy pragmatically; though it strongly supports initiatives like those that improve the quality of life of the aggregate population.
On the basis of the contractarianism principle as put forth by Rawls, principles of justice are of dual nature and they combine efficiency and justice since the philosophical foundation of efficiency is utility while that of justice is rights. Thus, based on Rawls’s principle of contractarianism, individuals have an equal right to access of the basic liberties and opportunities. In addition, the principles hold that the social and economic inequalities must be of benefit to the members of the society who are least advantaged. Therefore, despite the fact that these inequalities are quite inevitable, the society should be structured in such a way that the inequalities could be morally justified (Rawls 1971). The second part of the principle as beholden to Rawls holds that the moral principles that are accepted by the society must as well be supported by members of the society for the benefit of the society at large. And this too offers a strong moral justification for the government of nay nation to provide such services as those that help improve the quality of life of the population for the greater good of the entire society and as a moral contract with the people. These two principles, each on its own level, provide a good justification for the government of Ireland to delve in the provision of health services and other social work services for the sake of poverty alleviation in the country, which has been on the receiving end of criticism for having looming poverty status in spite of it being a developed nation. However, the country has seen a considerable improvement in the initiatives to alleviate the plight of the disadvantaged in the country since 2004 (McLaughlin and Monteith 2004).
Poverty restricts one’s freedom and in most cases poor people are said to be marginalized and excluded from activities taken for granted by other people (Nozick 1974). Poor people can not afford quality food, good health care and basic education. In the case of Ireland, only a very small proportion of people from low income families can afford third level of education. The government of Ireland set national anti-poverty strategy which reflects that that people are considered poor if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having standard of living regarded as acceptable by the Irish society. Ireland is one of the countries in Europe credited for reduction of poverty levels through the establishment of national poverty and social exclusion reduction strategies. The Irish government poverty reduction action plan was aimed at poor people and those at high risk poverty also those considered weak, aged and women. The first targets chosen were those in consistent poverty .And since poverty leads to social exclusion the Irish government set up national action plan for social exclusion whose central role was tackling of unemployment as means of reducing social exclusion. There priorities were for specific group of people, for example in case of children there was education and income support, in the case of working age and those with disabilities there was employment and participation plus income support, for the aged there is social care and income support and for communities there is accommodation, health and integration. The poverty reduction strategies are supplemented by multi year action plans with dedicated people and enough resources.
By improving the social care service for its people, the government of Northern Ireland is trying to fulfil its moral obligation to its citizens. It is the right of every human being to live a life with dignity without discriminations due to his or her social, financial or physical status in the society. Social care encompasses giving people the ability to meet their desires for their well being as well as the welfare of the society of which part they constitute (Nozick 2004). One should take care of the needy not for any returns but of their moral obligation. Values make guidelines on how we should behave. Values like well-being, human rights, care and empathy are central and universal to every society. The fact that in a democratic society there are varying degrees of influences on policies may imply that the weaker groups may not be heard and hence their interests are left out. This leads to the need for advocacy for policies and strategies that ensure that the voices of these groups are heard. This ensures that governments have to set policies that take care of the weak .within advocacy lie ethical values of human rights, respect and care for others. In general the work of care advocates is to bridge between what should happen and what is actually happening on the ground. By arguing on behalf of clients that what is not provide should be provided for, an advocate draws from moral sensibility and moral understanding. Care can be divided into two dimensions: care for oneself and care for others (Rawls 1971). The general understanding of ethics is based on how one relates to others but in particular it means not causing harm to others and caring for those who cannot care for themselves. The Northern Ireland government’s antipoverty strategy is a good example for other governments to follow. It is also the duty of every individual in the society to voluntarily care for those who cannot care of themselves as a moral responsibility.
Nozick, R., (1974) Anarchy, State and Utopia, Blackwell
Rawls, J., (1971) A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press.
Nozick, R., (2004) ‘The Entitlement Theory of Justice’ in Ethics in Practice, an Anthology 2nd. Edition, Ed. La Follette, Hugh, Blackwell
McLaughlin, E and Monteith, M. (2004) Severe Child Poverty in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Save the Children