Time for a leg-up, not a hand-out

The SVP’s budgetary proposals are considered by Greg Daly

In calling for the Government to provide financial incentives to landlords to encourage them to accept tenants receiving housing assistance payments, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) is in line with other charities working with Ireland’s homeless and marginalised. 

As Focus Ireland pointed out some weeks ago in response to reports of Minister Alan Kelly’s plans to introduce ‘rent certainty’ to ease pressure on families at risk of homelessness, any solution needs to work for landlords as much as for tenants. 

Without, for instance, some kind of tax dividend for landlords who rent to social tents, there is a risk of rental stocks being further reduced, exacerbating a problem that has already seen – according to the SVP’s Liz Kerrins – 700 families around the country reduced to living in hotels and B&Bs. 

Financial incentives for landlords and the raising of rent supplements to “realistic levels” were just two of the proposals put forward last week at the launch of ‘Investing in what matters’, the SVP’s pre-budget submission. 

Speaking at the launch, the charity’s national vice-president Kieran Stafford said that on the centenary of the Easter Rising, “Budget 2016 needs to articulate our values as a nation”.


From the budgetary outline, which the Government has already made available, “indications are that additional if limited funds will be available to support those in need and the vulnerable in our communities who have taken the brunt of the cutbacks in recent years”, he said. 

This may seem optimistic, especially in an election year, but Ms Kerrins explained that the Government envisages having between €1.2 and €1.5 billion to divide roughly equally as tax reductions and spending.

Pointing out that this is not a lot in terms of state expenditure, she said “the SVP urges the Government to do the socially just thing but also the wise thing and invest in essential public services”. 

When the economy slumped, she explained, Ireland’s public services were not strong enough to help ease the blow: “Because of inadequate public investment in services in times gone past, both boom and bust, the Irish Government did not have the physical assets to support people when they couldn’t afford to buy it on the market, be it early childhood education or housing.” 

Arguing that good quality homes are key to breaking the poverty cycle, she said just as landlords should be offered financial incentives to accept tenants who depend on rent allowances, so a condition for receiving such incentives should be improvements in accommodation quality, particularly in terms of energy efficiency.

The push for energy efficiency, according to John-Mark McCafferty, SVP’s head of social justice and policy, is in its infancy in the SVP, but it offers benefits in terms of personal finances, health and healthcare expenditure, education, the environment, and even job creation. 

A similar ‘silver bullet’, he said, is early childhood care and education, bolstering the development of children while enabling parents to work. 

Ireland’s childcare system, according to EU figures, is a serious deterrent to work, costing as much as 40% of parental income. 

The SVP proposes that the community childcare subvention be extended to all early years services, that the current early childhood care and education programme be extended from 38 weeks to 48 weeks, and that a mapping exercise be conducted into afterschool services run by and in the State.

Income is vital for helping people climb out of poverty, but it is clear that it is not enough. 

If the Government listens, and heeds the SVP’s call for a strategic and multiannual approach to housing, energy, and childcare policy, real headway may finally be made in tackling poverty in Ireland.