The opportunity to realise a fair, inclusive and sustained recovery for the people we assist is being eroded by the absence of a new government.
Last year we received more than 2,300 calls for help per week from people around the country. A government is needed which will commit to ensuring that adequate income supports and good quality public services in the areas of housing, education and health are accessible to all, whether they are in employment on low pay or in receipt of social welfare.
Indeed, the new government must balance creating employment opportunities and support for those at work with the needs of those who, because of illness, disability or personal circumstances cannot access employment.
Regarding public services, the priority for the new government must be to deliver the 110,000 units promised in the Social Housing Strategy and to end the policy of relying predominantly on the private rented sector to address social housing need, which has failed. The historically high numbers of families in emergency accommodation (hotel and B&Bs), having been priced out of that sector, show that private renting is a pathway into family homelessness.
There’s certainly a role for a well-regulated, affordable private rented sector in meeting much housing need in the immediate term. However, a return to capital funding for the build and acquisition of social housing by local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies is the only longer term solution to the housing and homeless crisis which Ireland is facing, and vital to the creation of sustainable communities.
There are a number of other priority areas for the next government. The next Dáil must ensure the creation of a high quality, affordable Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and After School Care sector. These services are vital for child development, combating child poverty and enabling families to move into, and stay in, employment. Measures to address energy poverty, including energy retrofitting of the homes of the fuel poor as outlined in the recent Strategy to Combat Energy poverty, need to be implemented by the new Energy Minister with ambition and resources.
Tackling the problem of low pay for those in work and reversing the cuts made to supports for one parent families must also be carried out if we are to make any meaningful impact on our scandalous child poverty rates – which remain stubbornly high despite the recovery. The impact of the recession and the cutbacks to income supports and services continue to push people into poverty – as we are seeing in the scale of people seeking assistance. The next Government must focus on generating a fair and sustainable recovery which does not leave our most vulnerable people behind.
All those elected to the 32nd Dáil need to ensure as quickly as possible that a stable government is formed - or go back to the people.