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SVP urges Government to tackle poverty as calls for help increase

By Ann Marie Foley - 21 July, 2020

“The concentration of job losses in low paid sectors means that the impact (of COVID-19) has disproportionately fallen on groups that are least able to endure a financial hit,” said Kieran Stafford, national president, SVP.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) is now receiving over 15,000 calls for help each month. That is almost 1,500 extra per month when compared with the SVP annual report 2018 which stated that there were 160,377 calls per year, or an average of 13,364 per month.

The current calls are from people and families who have lost their jobs and are struggling with rent and utility bills. At the time of writing, the Government was discussing what is expected to be a short extension to the rent freeze and ban on evictions, measures which were introduced when COVID-19 struck.

“The concentration of job losses in low paid sectors means that the impact (of COVID-19) has disproportionately fallen on groups that are least able to endure a financial hit,” said Kieran Stafford, national president, SVP.

“Our members are seeing first-hand how the pandemic is worsening existing inequalities in our society and making life even more difficult for those trying to get by on an inadequate income,” he continued.

With the new Irish Government currently preparing a business stimulus package and Budget 2021, SVP is urging politicians to ensure that these include supports for people in poverty, with low income, and who are vulnerable.

The SVP pre-budget submission ‘Investing to Save – How Can We Build a Socially Just Society After Covid-19?’ was launched last week (16 July) and focuses on housing and homelessness, income and employment, education, energy and climate justice, and healthcare.

SVP is calling on the Minister for Finance to publish a report on Budget day outlining how proposed tax and expenditure changes will help address poverty and inequality. This is part of a Poverty Reduction Act which SVP is urging the Government to introduce within its first 100 days in office.

Dr Tricia Keilthy, head of social justice, SVP, said: “As we face what may become the greatest and deepest economic recession in modern history, concern is growing among SVP members who have seen first-hand the impact the last economic crisis and austerity policies had on struggling households.”

SVP wants the new government to guarantee that those already in poverty and on low incomes are not overlooked – or their situation made worse – as the economy recovers.

Dr Keilthy acknowledged that SVP does not underestimate the serious economic challenges ahead. However, she added that austerity is not inevitable, saying: “This is an opportunity to do things differently and we must now support economic and social recovery through investment in Ireland’s social infrastructure.”

She listed projects such as retrofit of social housing, development of rural public transport networks, and the building of new social housing by local authorities as measures that would help tackle poverty and the housing crisis, and generate employment and stimulate economic activity. There are 42 recommendations in ‘Investing to Save’ which cover COVID-19 and budget priorities.

SVP stated that Ireland entered the COVID-19 crisis with almost 700,000 people across the country already living below the poverty line, including 225,000 children. More than 70 per cent of people living in poverty cannot afford an unexpected expense, and 40 per cent are going without basics like adequate heating and food. These households are being impacted by additional costs as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, with higher bills from more time at home.

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