Responding to the Budget, Kieran Stafford, SVP National President said, “While many of the measures announced today will help families who are struggling, much remains to be done in the areas of education, housing and childcare so that individuals and families can get out and stay out of poverty.”
The effects of years of austerity and underinvestment in public services continue to be felt by individuals and families being assisted by SVP. Many of the families who took part in our recent research, Stories of Struggle were hoping for measures which would offer more secure and affordable housing for their families. Families were hoping for more supports for education so that their children could participate fully in school and eventually find their way out of poverty. Families also emphasised the need for affordable and quality childcare so that they could enter employment or increase their hours. Investing in social housing, education and childcare has the potential to change the lives of people in poverty. Today was a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.
“The children look for money for school trips, and we often have to say no, even to five euro, we just don’t have it”.
Kieran Stafford said “The increase in the rate of the Qualified Child Increase, in addition to the higher rate of social welfare announced in today’s budget, will make a difference to the families we assist and those who are struggling to get by every week.”
The full restoration of the Christmas Bonus payment is also welcome, as Christmas can be difficult for families with children, many of whom dread the extra expense at this time of year.
SVP says the increase in the earning disregard for one parent families is a step in the right direction, but is concerned that the benefit of increases in the National Minimum Wage will not be felt by many lone parents in low paid work as a result of the low level of the earnings disregard.
SVP head of Social Justice, Caroline Fahey said “A job does not necessarily provide an income which will lift a family out of poverty, and the earnings disregard for the One Parent Family Payment and Jobseekers Transition Payment are essential if the problem of the ‘working poor’ is to be addressed. The additional childcare supports for families are very welcome as this is a vital part of the jigsaw in supporting families in employment and making work pay.”
“Instead of enjoying summer I am thinking ‘how can I get the new school bags and new jackets they want’, kids want to be like other kids”.
Schools will continue to ask parents to pay substantial ‘voluntary’ contributions due to the failure to restore capitation rates to 2010 levels in Budget 2019. While a 5% increase is positive, the underfunding of our education system means that schools have no choice but to seek contributions from parents and fundraise towards the running costs. SVP are also disappointed there is no additional funding for school books.
The €25 increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance is welcome, however this should be combined with effective measures from the Department of Education to compel schools to adopt cost-saving approaches such as generic uniforms which would reduce the costs for parents.
SVP National President, Kieran Stafford said: “For some families, the cost means that even second level education is out of reach, never mind third level or further education. If we are to help people pave a pathway out of poverty much greater investment in education at all levels is needed”.
They also said Budget 2019 did not include any measures to support access to third level for low income groups.
“I have to get a house for my family; nothing can be done until we have our home. It’s impossible to plan in homeless accommodation”.
In the context of almost 10,000 homeless people, including 4,000 children, and more than 80,000 households with an unmet need for social housing, Budget 2019 lacks ambition.
There has been no increase in the limits for Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rent Supplement. Housing Assistance Payment and Rent Supplement are essential supports for people who cannot meet their housing need from their own resources. However, the current direction of housing policy, relying on the private rented sector to meet long term social housing need, means that these payments are a huge and increasing cost to the Exchequer.
The Housing Assistance Payment is not appropriate to meet long term social housing needs, due to the high cost to the Exchequer, the high cost to the tenant, and the insecure tenure it provides. Even with additional expenditure on HAP, tenants will continue to struggle to find housing due to the severe shortage of rental accommodation. A change in the direction of housing policy is necessary to address the housing crisis so that individuals and families can have secure housing and are protected from the risk of homelessness.
After Budget 2019, tenants on low incomes in receipt of HAP or Rent Supplement will continue to pay unsustainable top ups to their landlords just to keep a roof over their heads, and will remain vulnerable to homelessness in the event of a rent increase or if the landlord wishes to sell or refurbish the property, or let it to a family member.
Caroline Fahey said “Social housing, built and acquired by local authorities and approved housing bodies in conjunction with measures such as cost rental and affordable housing delivery is the solution to the housing crisis and we did not see an adequate response to the crisis in today’s Budget announcement.”
“I can’t afford to fill the oil tank, I can fill a barrel with kerosene from time to time, or get fifty euro of briquettes or coal”.
The upcoming increases in energy prices will hit those living on low incomes in poorly insulated homes very hard and the extension of the fuel allowance to 28 weeks will help mitigate some of these increases. However, the fuel allowance is still 21% lower than 2010 in terms of purchasing parity.
Kieran Stafford said “So many of the people we assist are making the choice between eating or heating their homes. The reduction in the Public Service Obligation will help reduce energy bills, but unfortunately price increases will wipe out any benefit to households”.
SVP look forward to progressing the Minister’s commitment to ensure that all future budgetary and policy decision are properly poverty and equality proofed.