Last week, to a full room, SVP launched its Pre-Budget Submission calling on Government to think radically and put forward proposals in Budget 2016 that will create real change in Ireland and a more equal and just society.
SVP members around Ireland are finding that people are still feeling the impact of job losses and wage cuts and cumulative welfare and service cuts. The impact of poverty on their lives and wellbeing is deepening. Their ability to ‘get by’ has been eroded. It is time to Invest in What Matters – rented housing, warmer homes and early years services to tackle deprivation and support access to work.
When economic austerity hit and incomes reduced, Ireland did not have strong public services to help ease the blow. This was because of historically low public investment in services and the focus by successive Governments on low tax takes. Income has had to do the heavy lifting to make work pay and keep people out of poverty – and it just can’t do that given the scale of need and how expensive basic necessities like accommodation are to buy.
The Government says that an additional €1.2 to €1.5bn is available to spend in Budget 2016, with half of that sum going towards tax cuts. While this may seem a lot of money, it is modest within the context of Budget 2015’s spend of €53.5bn and is inadequate given the level of need. For example, the Government estimates that buying, building and leasing the 35,000 social housing units they promise under their Social Housing Strategy costs €3.8bn. There are currently 90,000 households in need of social housing in Ireland.
The outcome of the lack of investment is over 500 families and 1,200 children living in B&Bs and hotels, one family to a room for months on end because they have nowhere to go.
We need to see an increase in the level of quality housing supply available to those on low incomes and a narrower gap between the rent supplement (RS) limit and actual rents, which is increasing to an unsustainable level where it cannot be met. We propose that an immediate increase in RS limits to realistic levels is urgently needed as a temporary preventative measure to homelessness whilst additionally providing a financial incentive to private landlords for accepting tenants on the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) on condition that the quality of private rented homes are improved.
The problems with HAP and RS are compounded by the dire lack of social housing units available. Despite assurances by Government of 35,000 new units by 2020 SVP is concerned, not only that the targets will not be met, but that the new supply will not meet the level of housing need in Ireland. SVP wants a review in early 2016 of the housing delivery to date against the targets and in light of housing need, which is expected to increase substantially due to home repossessions and homelessness.
Between 2009 and 2013 SVP spent over €46m assisting people buy fuel. Part of the reason we spend so much is the energy inefficiency of homes, particularly in the private rented sector. SVP recommends widening the eligibility criteria and funding target for the Warmer Homes scheme and Sustainable Energy Communities Programme to target low-income households. But SVP also asks that Government maintains the payment level of the Fuel Allowance paid to those on social protection payments. Having energy efficient homes and an adequate income are both important to fight energy poverty.
Despite welcome recent decreases in unemployment, Ireland is not close to its policy goal of 'making work pay' for people whose earnings potential is relatively low. Adequate pay and income supports are crucial, but so are affordable, quality services. Our employment policies will fail unless we provide the necessary supports. Early childhood care and education and after school care provision are inadequate and too expensive – families can pay up to 40% of their income in fees. This is particularly true for one parent families currently being required by Government to take up employment or increase their working hours. SVP is seeking, amongst other recommendations, an extension of the free universal ECCE programme to 3-4 year olds from 38 weeks to 48 weeks per year. This will support costs for all parents as they will get an extra ten weeks of free provision.
There was a great level of support in the room for our policy demands by other organisations and individuals who, like SVP, witness the impact of poverty on their lives and wellbeing of people across Ireland. But there is a lot to be done between now and Budget 2016 to make sure that Government understands that now is the time to Invest in What Matters. The launch of our Pre-Budget Submission was the first step. Over the coming months we will continue to meet with various government departments to urge them to adopt the policy changes outlines in our Submission and create real change in Ireland in 2016 and into the future.
SVP’s full submission is available at www.svp.ie/whatmatters2016