Government should ensure move to low-carbon economy does not hit poor

SVP recommends annual rate fuel allowance be increased by €200

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) today launched its pre budget submission for Budget 2020. From left, Marcella Stakem, SVP social policy development officer,Tricia Keilthy, SVP social policy development officer, Nessan Vaughan, chair, SVP social justice committee, Caroline Fahey,  SVP Head of Social Justice. Photograph: Iain White /Fennell Photography

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) today launched its pre budget submission for Budget 2020. From left, Marcella Stakem, SVP social policy development officer,Tricia Keilthy, SVP social policy development officer, Nessan Vaughan, chair, SVP social justice committee, Caroline Fahey, SVP Head of Social Justice. Photograph: Iain White /Fennell Photography

 

The Government should ensure the transition to a low-carbon economy does not adversely affect society’s poorer members, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has warned.

In its pre-budget submission, Investing in a Just Society, the organisation said that solutions to energy poverty and climate change are “very closely aligned”, with retrofitting schemes and rural transport services key to tackling both issues.

“We should be very concerned that there isn’t a sufficient focus on the issue of energy poverty,” said SVP’s social justice development officer Tricia Keilthy. She added that tackling energy poverty must be at the “core” of Ireland’s environmental policy and those on lower income must be sufficiently compensated.

It is estimated that close to 28 per cent of Ireland’s population experience energy poverty, with 400,000 people sacrificing heating last year due to high costs. The charity spent over €4 million helping individuals and families with energy expenses in 2017.

Increases in carbon tax will adversely affect low-income families and those in rural areas, unless transport infrastructure improves and the fuel allowance annual rate increases from €630, the organisation states. For this year’s budget, SVP recommends the annual rate be increased by €200, at an estimated cost of €74 million to the exchequer.

“If you invest well in energy efficiency schemes, in transport, particularly rural transport, it will help us meet our climate obligations, but it will also help us address poverty.”

The organisation applauded the Government’s decision to make pollution targets legally-binding, and called for a similar approach for ensuring poverty targets are met.

“Ireland is good at writing policy, but when it comes to implementation we tend to fall short,” said Ms Keilthy. “Putting energy poverty side by side with measures to tackle climate change, will mean there does not have to be a trade- off.”

In its submission, the charity requests that €50 million go to local authorities to retrofit their social housing stock. SVP asks that all existing units be upgraded within the next four years, and seeks energy efficiency standards to be improved across the rented sector as well.

Currently, many homes being rented to people on social welfare are in “scandalous conditions”, said SVP’s national president, Kieran Stafford. Much of the accommodation does not meet “basic needs” in terms of quality, heating and insulation, yet they pass the Government’s housing assistance payment (Hap) scheme, he said, adding: “If you brought the fires of hell into these homes you couldn’t heat them.”

However, retrofitting schemes and home improvements are feared by many of the people he deals with, he said. “There is a worry that if the quality is upgraded, the accommodation will be taken out of the hands of people on social welfare and rents pushed high enough for people in the private sector to use.”

While many people are facing “staggering hardships” within their homes, eviction is the ultimate angst, he said, adding: “Bad and all is the situation they are in, the next step is a bed and breakfast or hotel, and that would be worse.”

The organisation also highlighted the rise of in-work poverty, with Ireland’s high employment figures masking the fact that 110,000 people who have jobs are living below the poverty line. SVP is calling for the national minimum wage, along with social welfare payments, to be “benchmarked” against the cost of a minimum essential standard of living. The group suggests a 4 per cent increase in minimum social welfare payments for Budget 2020.

Poverty among lone parents with a job doubled between 2012 and 2017, with one in five living below the poverty line. SVP is asking the Government to decrease the weekly hours threshold for single parents applying for the working family payment scheme. At present, lone parents must meet the same minimum hours requirement as two-parent families to access the payments. SVP suggests decreasing this threshold from 19 hours to 15 for single parents.