Housing crisis requires ‘all options on table’, says St Vincent de Paul

Charity’s pre-budget submission says Government must provide supports to jobless households

Geoff Meagher, national president of St Vincent de Paul, said there are sections of Irish society who ‘simply cannot take anymore’ in terms of the costs imposed on them. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Geoff Meagher, national president of St Vincent de Paul, said there are sections of Irish society who ‘simply cannot take anymore’ in terms of the costs imposed on them. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

The State’s housing crisis is now so acute that “all options” have to be on the table to address it, St Vincent de Paul (SVP) charity has said.

Publishing its pre-budget submission today, SVP said the risk of homelessness was increasing due to higher rents and a chronic shortage of social housing.

Asked whether rent controls were an option, John Mark McCafferty, head of social justice with SVP, said the organisation had never advocated for such a policy up to now but that the situation was so accute that “all options need to be on the table”.

He said there had been an “effective privatisation of social housing” through the rent supplement system.

There were also poverty traps associated with the rent supplement.

Mr McCafferty said it was a fundamental failure of Irish social policy that housing was seen as a commodity and not as a public good.

SVP members were seeing many families in Dublin who were inappropriately housed in hotels and others who were “just hanging on by their teeth” or in dispute with landlords over rent.

“This is arguably one of the most acute issues facing us right now,” he said.

One member of an SVP conference in the north east said the housing issue was “becoming a real problem” in that area. “It’s not just Dublin,” she said.

“Landlords don’t want people with rent supplement.”

The organisation spends over €80 a year, up from €52 million in 2008. In 2012 it spent over €22 million on food and cash assistance and over €11 million was spent on helping households with their energy costs.

SVP said such assistance with fuel and energy costs was up by nearly 200 per cent since 2008. Assistance with education costs was up by 22 per cent over the same period.

The organisation said it had raised the issue of water charges with the regulator, with Irish Water and with the Department of Social Protection.

Mr McCafferty said SVP was particularly concerned about the impact of water charges on two particular groups: households where there were two or three adults living on jobseeker’s payments, and households where there were two or three adults in work but on low pay.

Caroline Fahy of SVP’s social justice team said families with children were the largest group seeking help, particularly those in lone-parent households.

The organisation said it was seeing more and more people seeking its help because “they cannot make ends meet even when they have a job”.

This was due to low pay, reduced working hours and the increased cost of living.

National president Geoff Meagher said: “We hear a lot of discussion about Ireland’s recovery, and we certainly welcome the progress achieved, especially the increase in employment. But we can see the gap widening between those who are positioned to benefit most from any recovery and those who are likely to continue to struggle.”

The submission makes 33 proposals for the 2015 budget.

These include reversing the cut to jobseeker payments for young people and the supplementary welfare allowance.

SVP is also seeking the adjustment of tax credits rather than tax bands at the marginal tax rate, as well as the restoration of the free PRSI allowance.

The submission seeks the reversal of the reductions in the “earnings disregard” for those on one-parent family payment, as well as the restoration of child benefit to families of children over 18 who are in full-time second level education and living in low-income households.

It also urges investment in further education and training and the protection of book grant levels in primary and secondary schools.

Asked how the charity would fund the pre-budget proposals, Mr Meagher said it did not get involved in the debate about how they should be achieved.

“But there are sections of Irish society today who simply cannot take anymore in terms of the cost. After that, it’s for the Government to decide how to deal with that.”

The submission is published in full at svp.ie