Housing crisis ‘forcing families to choose between food and rent’

Children’s Rights Alliance warns of impact of homelessness on education and health

Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance said some schools had provided bean bags for children to rest on so they could participate in lessons after catching up on sleep. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance said some schools had provided bean bags for children to rest on so they could participate in lessons after catching up on sleep. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

The housing crisis is forcing some families to choose between paying the rent and eating, a leading expert on children’s rights has warned.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said many of the children affected would not appear in child poverty statistics.

Those low-income families which did not qualify for the housing assistance payment (HAP) faced rents of €1,900 a month, the average rent in Dublin, she pointed out.

“What does that mean for household income? It means parents don’t have money to spend on some the other basics in life. It means the heating is not being turned on. It means parents skipping meals themselves. It means when the school trips come in they have to say, ‘No’. It means some children get to go the local clubs, but not children in these families.”

Speaking on Wednesday at a housing conference hosted by the Raise the Roof campaign, Ms Ward said the homelessness crisis was creating both an education crisis and a public health crisis for children.

Many were arriving at school exhausted. Some schools had provided bean bags for children to rest on so they could participate in lessons after catching up on sleep.

There were disproportionate levels of illness among homeless children, she continued, and referred to figures published by Temple Street Children’s Hospital last week showing 842 children treated there last year were homeless.

“That is really high. If there are 3,800 children in homeless accommodation that tells us we have a serious public health issue when it comes to children experiencing homelessness.”

‘I chose to feed them’

Families accommodated long distances from schools, in hotels or B&Bs without cooking facilities, were choosing between multiple bus fares and take-away meals.

One mother she quoted said: “They [CHILDREN]probably didn’t go in about twice a week and the school were asking why they’re not there. So I told them, I had put them in a position where I could feed them or send them to school. I don’t have the money to do both. So I chose to feed them.”

The Raise the Roof campaign is a coalition of trade unions, housing agencies, community groups, political groups and students unions calling for “radical action on the housing emergency”.

Ms Ward said this “emergency” was down to a lack of investment in public services and particularly in public housing.

Resistance to social housing would dissipate a good deal if resistors could say, ‘My son or daughter might be in line for one of those houses.’

Several speakers called for a reframing of social housing, saying it should be called public housing and opened up to a far bigger proportion of people, rather than just to the lowest income brackets. It should be publicly-financed on public land, they said, adding it would do much to de-stigmatise social housing and achieve mixed tenure estates.

Tony Fahey, professor emeritus at the school of social policy, social work and social justice at UCD, said: “Resistance to social housing would dissipate a good deal if a lot of the resistors could say, ‘My son or daughter might be in line for one of those houses.’”

John O’Connor, chief executive of the Housing Agency said the problems many people associated with social housing were caused by “poor design” - of the houses, the lack of community facilities in an area, the lack of transport infrastructure - and very low income thresholds for eligibility.

“You can build large scale public housing estates. They need to be designed properly and they need to be opened up to wider cohort of people. Ireland is one of the few countries where there are limits set on income for eligibility. In other countries anyone can apply.”