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Social Modernisation and Irish Social Policy

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(ii) Social Modernisation and Irish Social Policy

In this essay I will discuss social modernisation and social policy in Ireland. Social modernisation is how societies change over time. In Irish social policy I will discuss two areas and the developments made in these areas from pre-independence up to the 1990s. The two areas I will discuss are health and education.

Since the latter part of the nineteenth century there was a growing attention given to the ‘social question’. This was the emergence of the development of economies, questions about meeting basic needs and acknowledging risks and the new ideas about the organisation of society. During the Irish Poor Law there was an underlying concern to protect the ethos of individualism. “Individualism is a belief that confers a central role on individuals in maintaining their own well-being” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 84). During this time, poverty was seen as a fault on the individual rather than the state. This meant that the people were responsible for their own welfare; and so, the family was the primary source of welfare for individuals. During the mid- nineteenth century there was a period of immense social and economic change, due to industrialisation and urbanisation.  “The ‘social consequences of industrialisation’ according to Fraser (1984, p. 5), ‘provided the fieldwork with which social policy had to deal, and they were broadly of three sorts, affecting the individual, his work and his environment” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 86). The regulation and monitoring of these factories became critical for the protection of its workers as it was a feature of state intervention affecting people’s lives. For example, from 1776 working in the mines was restricted to eight hours. Also due to the impact of industrialisation, it highlighted the welfare risks presented by poverty and poor housing conditions such as over-crowding. With this brought social risks. “Social risks refer to responsibilities that are beyond the control of an individual; they are shared in the sense that there are certain risks to which all of us are exposed in various ways.” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 87). These were issues that were acknowledged to not go away without intervention by a larger body and significant investment. Due to this a number of health acts were enforced to abolish this problem. Through the latter part of the nineteenth century and particularly ‘one person, one vote’, this meant that individuals could finally express their views as a majority. Also with Karl Marx philosophy, made people question their work, whether they are alienated by it and highlighted the unequal level between the employers and employees.

The health sector is the most contested and debated area of social policy. Health inequality is broadly used to describe the differences in health status. “health inequality exists where differences in health are present across different income and social groups, and are considered the be avoidable and unfair” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 237). These differences include individuals, population groups and groups positioned in unequal parts of society. During the Poor Law, before independence, the state was more involved in the frame work. Doctors could also have the right to practise privately. As development in medicine occurred this caused some problems to a certain extent. People had rising expectations which caused an increased pressure on the healthcare systems. With these advances came high costs, initially only accessible to patients in the private sector. This caused a growing strength in doctors which came with costly demands. The government then issued National Insurance Act which allowed those under a certain income to free access to a GP and medicines. After the independence there was little change being done in the policy. Areas were finding it difficult to fund the rising costs of hospital care. There also was a rising issues of infant mortality and TB. With the growing costs hospitals tried to rationalise for these developments in an attempt to have some equality between fee-paying patients and non-fee-paying patients. Between 1920 and 1930 hospital commission recommended “12 main hospital centres and the amalgamation of some of the voluntary hospitals so as to improve their facilities and coordinate their services” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 253). Although despite the capitals investment there was little improvement in the population status. In 1945 the report of Department Commission on Health Services recommended a wide research in reorganisation of the health services, for example, countries would become responsible for comprehensive family medical services. This was met with a strong opposition from the medical profession and the Catholic church. In the early 1950s there was a nationwide vaccination and also extra beds supplied in hospitals. By the end of the decade TB was no longer a major problem. In the 1960s and 1970sthe health system turned to the administrative reform and continued in attempts to rationalise services. In 1966 “The White Paper recommended that category in individuals be granted a choice of doctor and a choice of pharmacist” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 257), this was instead of receiving medicine directly from a doctor. Doctors would also be forced to treat these patients in the same facilities as private patients. The aim was to eliminate the differences in GP access between public and private. The White Paper also saw that country hospitals were no longer suited as a main hospital for a region as it needed to be based in a larger region; so as to be tied to regional administration than county-based. In 1967, what came to be known as the Fitzgerald report, saw that 12 general hospitals would all have 300 beds to cover a population of 120,000 people. This would then offer all the main services along with two consultants per speciality. In 1979 people to all user categories were rewarded free hospital care. Although this saw an increase on expenditure. In Ireland the health expenditure exceeded the OECD average. The key idea is to reduce inequality in the health system include waiting list initiatives, modifications to the public/private mix, the growth of private hospitals, issues in relation to the private health insurance and the developments in primary care.

Through the education system, it is important that they are seen to be offering everyone an equal chance. The outcome is to have a meritocratic society. “Meritocratic societies are those in which achievement and success reflect availability and effort rather than factors such as class, race, religion, gender or family background and connections” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 288) The education policy before Irish independence was a denominational system. The boards at both primary and secondary level education were represented by main religions. From the state point of view, the primary school system was fragmented and also posed a threat to colonial rule. As a result, the state only supported national primary school in 1831. Due to the Intermediate education act in 1878 girls were almost excluded from education as a result of the Catholic church opposition: “Men’s sphere was the public world of work and commerce while woman’s was the private world of home” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009, page 301). Third level education was also dominated by churches and also participation was again, mainly male. Trinity college was the first established university in Ireland and was dominated by the Church of Ireland. By the mid nineteenth century there was a demand for third level education suitable for the middle class. An alternative Catholic university was established by the Catholic church in 1854 which became University College Dublin. Many non-denominational universities were established in Belfast, Cork and Galway. By 1908, after decades of proposals, an Irish University Act was passed. A new National university of Ireland (NUI) was established through three colleges, Queens college at Cork and Galway and the Catholic University in Dublin (UCD). This act facilitated the Catholic control. During the 1920s and up to the 1950s there were minimal changes. With the opportunity of the new state there was a promotion to the nationalism culture, religious instruction and Irish language took centre place. Through primary school education new curriculum was introduced. There were fewer subjects, instruction in Irish and there were concerns involving the re educational impact. Children’s attendance between the ages of six and fourteen was mandatory in 1926. Secondary school remained private with few scholarships for ‘bright’ children. Focus was to prepare the middle class for middle class jobs. In third level, the Catholic ethos pervade. There was an emerging careerism which increased demands on places. Irish state made its largest investment in educational building with Belfield campus in UCD. During the 1960s to the 1980s came a change in education. New curriculum was introduced which emphasised on child development and school management began to open up. Secondary level introduced free post-primary education. Although there was still private education as not all go free. Through third level in 1968 there was a substantial expansion in mean tested grants. Participation through all educational levels increased but there was still substantial class inequality. Since the 1990s drastic changes have been made through increase in funding and more policies. There were expansions in the system with early childhood and a greater focus on educational disadvantage. Through pre-school there was a failure to recognise its importance and there lagged being one of the lowest in Europe. 1999 revised primary school curriculum but far more changes occurred at second level with transition year and leaving cert vocational and applied programmes. Since the 1990s there was a persisting disadvantage in early school leaving viewed strongly related to poverty. With more choice it also did not mean greater integration seen with community national schools and multi-denominational.



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