Belfast Telegraph

NI Green Party: First-class services for all our call

By Steven Agnew

The NI Green Party is declaring this month First Class February, because we believe in first-class public services for all - not just those who can afford to pay.

We want to build the sort of society where, whatever your income bracket, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, or disability, you have equal access to robust, well-funded public services.

First-class public services work not just for the poor or the ill; they work for the common good. Our whole society benefits from them.

If you're a young person, you need an education. If you're a parent, you need good schools for your kids. Employers need a well-educated and healthy workforce. Retired people will sooner or later need quality healthcare.

But equal access doesn't mean everyone is treated as just one "unit", identical to all the others - put through like a widget on a conveyor belt.

The marketisation that has been pushed by successive governments as a way to improve "efficiency" has, rather, torn away at the whole social fabric.

Gone is the sense that the public realm treats us as unique individuals, yet belongs to us all. Now we're seen as either taxpayers or service-users; and taxes are seen as a "burden", public services as a "drain" on taxpayers' money.

This is an appalling, reductive, divisive prism through which we are encouraged to look at each other and ultimately through which to look at ourselves.

Strong public services are a democratic right in themselves, but they also help bring us together as a society - your children and mine in the same class, your parents and mine treated by the same medical staff.

So, yes, by all means let's emphasise the pragmatic reasons for investing in public services for all - they underpin the education of our children and thus our future technicians, tradespeople and professionals; they underpin the physical and legal infrastructure that allows us to go about our business.

But equal access to first-class, whole-life public services is about something more than these practical considerations.

In a society in which the public realm belongs to everyone, everyone belongs.

Steven Agnew is Green Party leader and an MLA at Stormont

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