By Sean Ryan - 15 October, 2016
The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has welcomed Budget 2017 increases in public investment, but says that this investment needs to be prioritised over any tax cuts for the foreseeable future.
In a statement this week, the society’s Head of Social Justice and Policy, John-Mark McCafferty, said that the 3:1 ratio of investment in services to tax cuts has been welcomed. Investments include those in education, health and social protection.
He said that the SVP strongly welcomes the increase in investment in Early Childhood Care and Education, and the universal and targeted measures announced in this week’s budget. Low-income families who are struggling to afford childcare and afterschool costs will benefit from this new scheme.
The SVP also welcomes the €5 per week increase in the full weekly social welfare payment, which goes some way to restoring the purchasing power of these payments, and the further partial restoration of the Christmas Bonus. This bonus is a vital support to families at an expensive time of year.
Other positive developments include the improved income disregard from €90 to €110 per week, and the reinstated Cost of Education Allowance, which will benefit lone parents in work and education.
Regarding the under 25s, the SVP says that the restoration of the Back to Education Allowance to the full rate is welcome, as are the reductions in rent supplement contributions from this group, as under 25s are particularly at risk of homelessness.
However, the SVP believes that because homelessness and housing needs are so acute, the scale of the problem requires key quick wins combined with a scale of funding and delivery of social housing units unseen in Ireland for generations. Social housing levels are way below what is required. The SVP is concerned that in the absence of a strategy for the private rental sector, the action plan for housing and homelessness, Rebuilding Ireland, is over-reliant on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and private rented accommodation.
“We need a fundamental increase in social housing units to avoid high rents, cold, damp homes and economic evictions in the private rented sector,” said Mr McCafferty. He went on to say that while most of the changes announced today are welcome, it was the transformative policies of Early Childhood Care and Education, social housing provision and energy retrofitting of homes that would empower people and break the cycle of disadvantage.
These areas would, however, require significantly greater investment over the longer term – and this was dependent on public investment being prioritised over any tax cuts for the foreseeable future. Other areas in Budget 2017 which the SVP says are to be welcomed are the reduction in prescription charges and the return of dental and optical benefits under PRSI.