By Cian Molloy - 06 November, 2017
After giving last month’s Budget 2018 in-depth consideration, the Society of St Vincent de Paul says Fine Gael Finance Minister Paschal Donoghue missed an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on poverty and disadvantage.
Although the budget includes some additional resourcing of measures to tackle poverty and disadvantage, these are ‘spread to thinly’ and as a result it ‘will do little to address the huge deficits in housing, childcare and education’, says SVP President Kieran Stafford.
“Now that the dust has settled after Budget day, the Society of St Vincent de Paul is taking stock and assessing what it will mean for the people and households we assist,” Mr Stafford writes in his personal blog. “Will the small improvements in supports and services have a meaningful impact on families and children living in poverty? Will our 11,000 volunteers see a difference in the lives of struggling households they visit every week? Unfortunately, the answer is no.”
The SVP President said that before the budget, Fine Gael Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty had said she was committed to addressing the needs of the 139,000 Irish children living in poverty. “We witness the reality behind this statistic every week through our home visitation work; parents who go without food so their children can eat,” says Mr Stafford. “Yet, the €2 increase for our poorest children, while welcome, will do little to address these levels of deprivation. We know households with teenagers particularly struggle, so it was also very disappointing that there wasn’t a higher rate of payment for older children.”
He added: “The small increase in social welfare is welcome, but for many families this will likely be absorbed by the recently announced increases in electricity prices and the PSO levy, and continually rising rents.”
On the eve of the budget, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection published a report outlining the impact of the One Parent Family Payment, which confirmed ‘what SVP has been saying for years’, said Mr Stafford: “The reforms increased poverty among one parent families and made parenting alone more difficult. Despite this, the announcements on Budget Day were piecemeal, with no comprehensive plan to support lone parents into education, and sustainable employment.”
The SVP chief also complains that Budget 2018 failed to deliver measures to tackle education costs, which are causing real heartbreak to families. He said, “This August, the SVP received a record number of calls, as 5,000 parents sought help with back to school costs. Next year parents will still be cutting back on essentials like food and heating to meet these costs. Children will continue to feel different because their uniform is too small or they don’t have the right materials, or they can’t take part in activities like their friends. For less than the cost of the tax cuts, we could have reduced the cost of education for all families while simultaneously breaking down barriers to education.”
On the housing crisis, Mr Stafford points out that 80% of those living in emergency accommodation – more than 1,440 families and more than 3,040 children – are relying on the private rented sector, where landlords frequently charge unsustainable top-ups and where the risk of eviction is an ever-present threat. Mr Stafford says a more ambitious target for social housing output was needed in the budget.
He concluded: “As an organisation committed to social justice, the SVP believes it is not acceptable for anyone to live in poverty. It should also not be acceptable for our Government.”