Fundamental reform of the Irish economy can benefit everyone the Catholic agency insists, writes Michael Kelly
The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has proposed a package of reforms beginning with the forthcoming budget that the agency believes would lay the foundation for a future without poverty in Ireland.
Entitled ‘Foundations for an Equal Ireland’ the SVP submission includes proposals for further investment in education, housing, energy, climate justice and income adequacy.
The budget is due to be presented to the Dáil on Tuesday October 12.
Its five main pillars it claims can eliminate poverty are:
– Adequate social welfare that meets people’s minimum essential needs;
– Access to decent work, a living wage for workers and supporting parental employment;
– Quality public services that support the well-being of people, society, and the economy;
– A just transition to a low carbon society;
– Poverty proofing of all economic and social policy including budgetary decisions;
SVP claims that these actions would put the Republic on a path to deliver a society where the quality of life for all is improved and where the experience of poverty is the exception, rather than the experience it is for hundreds of thousands of people right now.
In introducing the details of the SVP pre-budget submission 2022 Rose McGowan, SVP national president insisted that: “We must not return to the pre-pandemic ‘normality’ where almost a quarter of children are experiencing deprivation; where thousands of people have nowhere to call home and many more are experiencing hidden homelessness doubling up with friends and family or living in poor quality housing; where over 240,000 people cannot afford to heat their homes and where a young person from a disadvantaged area has a less than one-in-seven chance of going to third level education.
“In a compassionate and just society, we put things right, not just now for those who need it but also in the future. Budget 2022 must lay the foundations to give everyone the opportunity to thrive,” she said.
Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP head of social justice added her belief that: “The public health crisis has shown us how exhausting it can be to live in a survival mode all the time. For people in poverty this struggle started long before this pandemic. The impact of living in poverty is multi-dimensional, taking a physical, psychological, and social toll on the lives of children and adults.
“For children, even short-term exposure to poverty can have a long-term impact. It can limit their opportunities and make it more difficult to realise their full emotional, educational, and social potential,” she said.
Dr Keilthy said as well as the moral need to lift people out of poverty, there is also a strong argument for the overall benefits to society and the economy if poverty can be prevented in the first place.
She pointed to The Hidden Cost of Poverty report published last year which put the estimated cost of poverty to the State at between €4-5 billion every year, which is more than the respective annual Government budgets for housing, justice, transport and agriculture.
Dr Keilthy warned that: “The levels of poverty in Ireland prior to the pandemic and the uneven impact the pandemic has had on Irish society underlines the need for Government to pursue the right kind of recovery in Budget 2022.
“This requires increased upfront spending now, so that we can reduce expenditure on mitigating the effects of poverty in the long term,” she said.
Selection of key proposals
Housing and Homelessness
Provide funding for the building of 10,000 social homes provided by local authorities and approved housing bodies and 5,000 affordable cost rental homes;
Ensure Government departments work together to identify households at risk of losing their rented accommodation;
Support children experiencing homelessness by providing a discretionary fund to meet the needs of children with additional needs experiencing homelessness and by ensuring every child experiencing homelessness has a child support worker available to them.
End ‘voluntary’ contributions in non-fee paying schools and make schoolbooks free for all primary and secondary students. Begin by restoring capitation rates to 2010 levels;
Make SUSI fit for purpose by reviewing the income thresholds and means test to qualify for SUSI in line with average incomes and poverty thresholds and increasing the value of the maintenance grant levels in line with the cost of living;
Expand eligibility for the SUSI grant to part-time students studying in publicly-funded further and higher education and training institutions to provide financial support to non-traditional, mature, and part-time learners.
Begin to close the gap between social welfare rates and the costs facing households by investing in both core rates and the qualified child increase to improve overall household income;
Increase the personal rate of social welfare by €9.80 per week with a €10 increase for children aged over 12 and a €2.10 increase for under 12;
Provide funding to support the implementation of the white paper on ending direct provision and increase daily allowance rates by increasing them in line with social welfare payments.
Energy and Climate Justice
Extend the fuel allowance from 28 to 32 weeks;
Recognise reducing energy poverty as an objective in national retrofitting plan and target the deep retrofitting of social tenancies and improvements in the private rented sector;
Invest in the rural transport programme and develop a budget line to implement the rural transport commitments set out in Our Rural Future, thereby increasing the range of public transport options, promoting social inclusion for those in rural areas, and incentivising greater public transport usage.