The European Commission consultation on the “European Pillar of Social Rights

pillar 1

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on what should be included in a ‘Pillar of Social Rights’ for the Eurozone, the 19 EU member states which use the Euro as their currency.

This is timely. It is clear that the ‘European Project’ is in crisis.  Poverty is increasing and more and more people are not able to afford the basics of a decent life.  Cutbacks in income supports and services as well as changes to protection for people on low incomes and in insecure work, introduced during the recession, are becoming more deeply embedded in most countries.

Since the economic crisis of 2008, people in Ireland have been particularly aware of the importance of the Eurozone for the policies which affect our lives. Politicians and journalists argue about whether successive Governments or the ‘ECB/EC/IMF Troika’ are to blame for decisions which have devastated services and supports for people on low incomes. For people effected the point is not so much to place the blame as to change the decisions and policies underlying them.

Now, decisions about tax and spend, spending priorities and new measures to promote ‘competitiveness’ take place largely within the structures of the Eurozone. Being part of the Eurozone brings with it increasingly strict rules about balancing budgets and reducing deficits.

This is a normal part of sharing a currency. However, there are as many ways to balance a budget, and as many ways to make an economy more competitive, as there are to skin a cat. The actual operation of the rules depends on the strength of pressure groups at work and the ideology of the people sitting around the various tables.

EAPN has argued for many years that the European Union as a whole needs stronger social policy. From the start, European law has always centred on market integration, and later fiscal and financial integration. This has been balanced, to a greater or lesser extent, by social policies which are mainly decided by national governments.

Without an agreed ‘social floor’ to protect income and rights, free trade and monetary union will push down conditions as countries scramble to attract investment in a ‘race to the bottom.

This is even more true of the Eurozone, whose decisions have such direct effects on policies but which not developed the same level of democratic accountability and openness as the wider European Union.

This is why the discussion launched by the Commission on a ‘Pillar of Social Rights’ for the Eurozone is so important.

 

The public consultation

The European Commission’s public consultation on the development of a European Pillar of Social Rights was launched in March and will run until the end of 2016 and result in the publication of a White Paper early in 2017.

The White Paper will include a number of principles which participating countries will use to screen the performance of their employment and social policies. It will not result in any new rights but try to ensure that existing ones are more effectively implemented.

While all EU countries are welcome to join in the focus is on the 18 Euro zone countries in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) but other EU countries can join in if they wish.

In its consultation document the Commission recognises that during the crisis there was a failure to effectively implement existing EU social rights and that poverty and inequality grew.

They also note rapid demographic changes, advances in technology and changes in work practice which provide new challenges. This is why the Commission is setting out to review existing rights and to see how they can be more effectively implemented in the future.

 

What the consultation will cover

The consultation was launched along with a first attempt at a draft Pillar of Social Rights which covers the three areas of:

Equal opportunities and access to the labour market (skills, education and life-long learning, flexible and secure labour contracts, secure professional transitions, active support for employment, gender equality and work-life balance, equal opportunities).

  1. Fair working conditions (conditions of employment rights, wages, health and safety, social dialogue and involvement of workers).
  2. Adequate and sustainable social protection (integrated social benefits and services, health care and sickness benefits, pensions, unemployment benefits, minimum income, disability benefits, long-term care, childcare, housing and access to essential services).

 

EAPN Ireland response

EAPN has long being calling for a more balanced approach to social and economic policy in Europe and with poverty and inequality still at crisis levels across the EU and three quarters of a million people living below the poverty line in Ireland such a proposal to strengthen social rights is certainly well overdue. Poverty and inequality need to be prevented and tackled because of the damage they do to people and society in general and not because they are seen as blocking economic growth. This must be the driver for the consultation.

EAPN Ireland will respond to the consultation and try and ensure it is as effective as possible. We have to wait and see if the ambition of a ‘Pillar of social rights’ will result in any real change but it is important to take the opportunity on offer.

The focus of the consultation is on social and employment policy but as we have become very aware of in the past number of years, social progress is very much dependent on what approach is taken to economic policy and how the European Semester is implemented. If economic and social policy do not complement each other, then there will be little change.

It is also a concern that the consultation is focused on those countries in the Eurozone rather than the wider EU. While this is obviously a problem for those countries which are not participating, it could also limit the possibility for any real change that a Pillar of Social Rights can have even in the Eurozone countries.

EAPN Ireland has produced a briefing on the Consultation which is available here: Briefing on the European Pillar of Social Rights (003)

 

eapn-hands-off-social-rights-eapn-c-rebecca-lee-15

European Commission Country Report gives food for thought

The European Commission report:

  • Highlights growth in Poverty: 30% of children at risk of poverty
  • Points to gaps in services infrastructure
  • Criticises decisions to cut taxes and forgo new income (Irish tax take is 29.7%, as against EU average of 39.1%)

By Paul Ginnell, Policy Officer, EAPN Ireland

 country report

As polls closed on election day on February 29th, the European Commission published its annual Country Report for Ireland.  They had not wanted to publish it before 10:00pm in case it was seen to be influencing voters. As it turns out there is quite a lot in the report that would be of interest for those voting on the day and I would encourage you to have a look.

The report includes a detailed analysis on a broad range of areas with the emphasis on macroeconomic concerns but also addressing a range of areas relevant in addressing poverty and social exclusion including housing, health and one section covering the labour market, education, social policies and inclusive growth which covers childcare.

 

Gaps in public service infrastructure

One of the most important messages from the Report is that Ireland has large gaps in its public services infrastructure, which also suffered major cuts during the crisis. This has resulted in increasing issues for the quality and adequacy of the services which now need immediate investment. The specific areas which are highlighted are in transport, housing and water infrastructure while education and health are also highlighted but as less severely affected by cuts.

 

Low overall tax take

The next section of the report is on taxation, which is the key source of the resources necessary to invest in in this infrastructure. The report highlights that Ireland’s overall tax take is low by EU standards with the Irish Government collecting taxation equivalent to 29.7% of GDP in 2015, whereas the EU average is 39.1%. The Report looks at various areas of taxation, which makes interesting reading. It is critical of the Government’s recent decisions to cut taxes or forego the opportunity to bring in revenue in some areas as both regressive and as not geared towards broadening the tax base.

While the issue of broadening the tax base is important in addressing the gap in public services the Commission should really not be surprised that investment in Ireland’s public service infrastructure, already underdeveloped before the crisis, has suffered so much during the crisis. These cuts were a direct response to the austerity policies promoted by the Commission itself as part of the troika and implemented by the last two Governments in Ireland.  Investment in social infrastructure is also restricted by the expenditure rules Ireland is tied to under the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact.

 

Education needs investment

In the section of the report dealing with education the Commission specifically highlights that the decrease in expenditure in the area of education has had a negative impact. It specifically points out that the increase in the student-teacher ratio in many schools, a reduction in the allocation of language support and the withdrawal of both the Visiting Teacher Service and Resource Teachers for Travellers could in turn have a negative impact on the quality of educational outcomes in the future. These specific cuts were used by EAPN Ireland to highlight to the troika and the Government at the time, that short term measures to make savings and reduce budget deficits would result in longer term social and economic costs. These impacts are now apparent.

 

Increase in Poverty

The report highlights that relative poverty and income inequality have increased with three in ten children now at risk of poverty and social exclusion. These too are as a result of policy decisions in a range of areas. In addressing the issue of poverty and inequality the Country Report focuses mainly on the Government’s measures to address the low work intensity of households. While supporting people to access quality work with a living wage is very important the Commission, and the Government, need to take much wider analysis of the causes and solutions to addressing poverty and inequality. Access to quality social services, addressed in other parts of the report, also have a key part to play. While the report does highlight that social transfers have been effective in greatly reducing poverty levels it does not address the need for an adequate income for those depending on social welfare supprts. Current social welfare payments for those of working age are €20 below the poverty line and are far off the levels needed to provide people with a minimum standard of living as calculated by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice.

 

In picking up on issues missed in the past by the Commission the Report does highlight the need to invest in quality, as well as affordable childcare. In the area of health it goes past solely focusing on cost effectiveness to highlighting the inequality that exists in the Irish two tier health system, but does not go as far as addressing the poorer health outcomes for those from those with lower incomes and from more disadvantaged groups in society.

briefing

Where this comes from

These Country Reports are published as part of the EUs European Semester process and the Report for Ireland is meant to inform the Irish National Reform Programme, which they will send to the Commission in April, and the Country Specific Recommendations Ireland will receive from the EU in May.  As the name suggests the Recommendations give very specific guidance to the Government on policy changes they want to see put in place.

Hopefully when the Commission does issue its Recommendations in May it will include one asking the Government to develop a new all of Government anti-poverty strategy which addressing the different dimensions of poverty, including ensuring the people have an adequate income, whether they are in or out of work.

The European Commission’s Country Report is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/pdf/csr2016/cr2016_ireland_en.pdf

 

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General Election 2016: A non-systematic summary of how the parties did

 poverty

50 seats to the party (FG) which wants:

  • A new Integrated Framework for Social Inclusion, built on the three pillars of
  1. More and Better Jobs;
  2. Long Term Thinking for Better Services;
  3. Equality of Opportunity. – help eliminate any persisting discrimination and draw on existing as well as new strategies.
  • Increase Jobseeker’s Benefit to €215 for the first 3 months of unemployment, reducing to €200 for between 3 and 6 months of unemployment and reverting to the standard rate of €188 after 6 months.

44 seats to the party (FF) which wants:

  • Increase working age welfare payments by €10 with an additional €10 top-up payment for carers, disability allowance, invalidity and blind pension recipients,

23 seats to the party (SF) which wants:

  • Reinstate the full rate of Jobseekers Allowance for under 26s; .recognise the cost of disability by increasing Disability Allowance by €20; .increase Fuel Allowance, Family Income Supplement and the Back to School Allowance
  • Raise the cut-off age of the One- Parent Family Payment to 12 years old; restore the Bereavement Grant; and introduce a Telephone Allowance.
  • Fund the rollout of an area-based anti-poverty programme based on the Young Ballymun model.
  • Establish a Social Protection Adequacy Commission to examine the minimum income required by different household types in receipt of social welfare to secure a Minimum Essential Standard of Living and make associated annual recommendations to the Minister for adjustments to social welfare rates of payment.

7 seats to the party (Lab) which wants:

  • Produce a new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion in 2017, with the eradication of child poverty the primary objective of that action plan.
  • Establish a new body – the End Child Poverty Commission to work to eradicate child poverty to make sure that we at least halve child poverty by 2021.
  • Support a strong, social Europe that delivers for its citizens
  • Income linked job seekers payment will amount to up to €30 a week extra above existing benefit levels.
  • At a minimum increase welfare payments in line with the cost of living.
  • Move towards welfare individualisation – meaning spouses and partners of jobseekers are seen as welfare clients in their own right.

6 seats to the party (AAA/PBP) which wants:

  • Reverse cuts to welfare rates, the telephone allowance, the cuts to child benefit and One Parent Family Payment

3 seats to the party (SDs) which wants:

  • Set official all-of-Government target of ending Consistent Child Poverty by 2021 – led by An Taoiseach;
  • Within 6 months develop a New Anti-Poverty Strategy, with clear targets, timeframes and lines of responsibility, and with families as a key focus;
  • Poverty-proof all Budgets and set against the targets of the new Anti-Poverty Strategy.
  • Replicate targeted area-based investment similar to the Young Ballymun programme
  • Improve the rate for jobseekers who are under 25 above the CPI rate;
  • Improve Rent Supplement and HAP rates as a short-term measure to reduce homelessness
  • .Reinstate the full the Christmas Bonus;
  • .Introduce a Cost of Disability Payment;

2 seats to the party (Gr) which wants:

  • Integration of the social welfare and tax systems in a manner which provides income support in recognition of the importance and value of unpaid work – begin with the introduction of a refundable tax credit for those people who do not take up their full tax allowance. This will be the first step to the adoption of the basic income scheme which would replace the current separation between the tax and social welfare system.
  • Reverse cuts to one parent family payments.

0 seats to the party  (Renua) which wants:

  • All people in receipt of social welfare who have been unemployed for more than six months will be enrolled in community employment schemes or an expanded JobBridge apprenticeship programme. A minimum of 20 hours per week on CE or JobBridge will be sought in return for job seekers payments

 

Now, we are looking forward to seeing these proposals in the new Programme for Government.

Time to vote. Time to end poverty for good.

EAPN Ireland Election Blog No. 10

By Robin Hanan,  EAPN Ireland (with thanks to Paul Ginnell for detailed analysis of party manifestoes)

 

Time to votedoor hanger

As the election campaign draws to a close, EAPN Ireland urges all of our members and friends to do three things:

  1. Vote tomorrow (Friday 26th)
  2. When you vote, think about the implications for people affected by poverty and for a more or less inclusive Ireland
  3. Encourage your family and friend to do the same

 

How to vote

To vote effectively in our system, you need to know four things:

  1. Mark the candidates in order of preference on your sheet. Your favourite gets a ‘1’, your second favourite gets a ‘2’ etc.. until you reach the one you dislike most who gets your lowest number (in fact no need to write a number – if you mark the others 1 to 12 in a 13-canddiate race, it is clear that the only one you don’t mark is number 13
  2. Your lower preferences can NEVER, EVER be used against your higher preferences. If you mark a 4 opposite a candidate, this vote can only transfer after 1,2 and 3 on your list are either elected or eliminated. It can only be used to give a slight preference for the person you marked 4 against those you marked 5, 6 etc., never against your 1,2,3.
  3. To avoid spoiling your vote, don’t mark the same number twice. (two 1s on the paper will disqualify your vote. Two 2s will make it non-transferrable, etc.) An X can be counted as a 1, but better not to risk it – use numbers. Don’t write anything that could identify you on the paper – that will rule it out. For safety, better not to write any smart remarks on the paper at all – that’s what Facebook is for.
  4. Bring I.D. with you in case you are challenged. You don’t need a polling card, but bring it if you have it.

 

Voting to end povertyCSO figures

The election itself is not going to +reverse the devastation to so many lives, particularly since the economic and social collapse of 2008.  However, the strength of the parties negotiating a programme for government after the election, and the strong voices fro the opposition benches keeping poverty issues on the agenda, will make a difference to who benefits from the recovery (or who suffers for another downturn).

The EAPN Ireland briefing on poverty and proposals for 2016-2021 identifies the main elements of an anti-poverty strategy needed:

  • A comprehensive strategy against poverty
  • A strategy for a decent income
  • A strategy for quality jobs
  • A strategy for quality services:
  • A strategy to end homelessness and ensure housing for all
  • A strategy based on human rights, dignity and equality
  • A strategy which we can afford “… a five-year plan to bring overall Irish taxation levels from their current 30% of GDP to the EU average, which is currently 40% of GDP.

We have tried to track the responses to the parties, which are given on the previous nine election blogs.  Here are  some pointers.

 

What do the parties say about an anti-poverty strategy?

  • The Anti-Austerity Alliance – People Before Profit do not specify the structures, but include policies throughout their manifesto(es) to redistribute resources to low and middle incomes.
  • Fine Gael proposes a new Integrated Framework for Social Inclusion, built on our three pillars of i. More and Better Jobs; ii. Long Term Thinking for Better Services; iii. Equality of Opportunity. – help eliminate any persisting discrimination and draw on existing as well as new strategies.
  • The Green Party calls for an approach that tackles the disease of poverty globally rather than the symptom of migration.
  • The Labour Party proposes to produce a new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion in 2017, with the eradication of child poverty the primary objective of that action plan. They want to establish a new body, the End Child Poverty Commission, to work to eradicate child poverty to make sure that we at least halve child poverty by 2021. They support a strong, social Europe that delivers for its citizens
  • Sinn Fein plan to fund the rollout of an area-based anti-poverty programme based on the Young Ballymun model.
  • The Social Democrats want to set and official all-of-Government target of ending Consistent Child Poverty by 2021, led by An Taoiseach; within 6 months develop a New Anti-Poverty Strategy, with clear targets, timeframes and lines of responsibility, and with families as a key focus; poverty-proof all Budgets and set against the targets of the new Anti-Poverty Strategy and replicate targeted area-based investment similar to the Young Ballymun programme

 

Is anyone talking about income and welfare?bridge homeless

EAPN Ireland Policy Officer, in the second of these blogs Income and welfare – the forgotten debate?, lays out the issues and the manifesto proposals of the main parties.

More recently Writing in the Irish Times, John FitzGerald of the ESRI says: Main parties’ manifestos fall short on welfare payments.  He continues:

“Social welfare payments provide the vital safety net for those who cannot work. The welfare system plays a major role in providing a more equal distribution of income than the market would deliver, and in preventing individuals and families falling below the poverty line.

“Ireland’s social welfare system has proven a more important lever than the tax system for redistributing income from the rich to the poor. ..Even in a period of low inflation, significant resources will be needed over the next five years just to maintain the real value of welfare payments.

“In the Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin manifestos there is a specific budget for social welfare, while in the Fianna Fáíl manifesto no budget is specified but a number of commitments are made to index certain benefits.

“On a crude calculation it could require the best part of €2 billion to maintain the real value of welfare payments for five years. The highest planned allocation for welfare of €1.7 billion is set out in the Labour manifesto. Fine Gael allocates around €1.4 billion, and Sinn Féin €900 million.

“The Labour commitment would go close to indexation, and it makes specific commitments on pensions and child benefit which amount to indexation. The Fine Gael allocation would fall short of providing for indexation of all benefits, but it has a commitment to index pensions. It also provides for an enhanced working family payment, which would leave less funds for indexing other benefits. Fianna Fáil does not give details of any budget allocation, but it does commit to indexing pensions. Also it makes provision for an increase in child benefit and working age payments, though at a rate below the likely rate of inflation. Sinn Féin has the smallest allocation for social welfare, only half of what would probably be needed to maintain the real value of welfare payments.”

To balance this assessment, it should be noted that Sinn Fein proposes to reinstate the full rate of Jobseekers Allowance for under 26s, recognise the cost of disability by increasing Disability Allowance by €20 and raise the cut-off age of the One- Parent Family Payment to 12 years old. The AAA/PBP propose to reverse cuts to welfare rates and One Parent Family Payment. Al parties have a range of improvements to welfare in their manifestoes.  See our blog Income and welfare – the forgotten debate?

Renua wants to make welfare payments conditional on 20 hours’ community service.

 

What about quality jobs?living wage 2

The EAPN Ireland blog Towards a ‘living wage’ – what does it mean and what are the parties saying? covers just what the title says, going into the manifestoes of the parties in some detail.

ICTU have tracked the election debates in some detail, and they report on their special web page.  They provide a list of candidates who have signed up to their charter on Fair Conditions at Work.

 

What about unemployment?

The INOU has produced a detailed analysis of the positions of different political parties under three headings:

  • Support unemployed people to achieve a minimum essential standard of living
  • Deliver better services for unemployed people
  • Provide unemployed people with decent and sustainable jobs

Are they talking about homelessness?

EAPN Ireland election blog No 8 looked at the positions of NGOs working for the homeless and how the issues are reflected in political parties’ manifestoes.  This has been a big issue in the campaigns, for obvious and tragic reasons, and it will be important to se how this is reflected in the new programme for Government.

 

How will we pay for decent income, services and jobs?

Tax has been a big part of the election debate. Very few parties are explicitly calling for an increase in overall tax take to pay for services.

The Social Democrats are calling for the current tax level to be maintained to allow for investment in services.

The Green Party continues to support a Basic Income and refundable tax credits, and a basic income has also been mentioned by Fianna Fail in the campaign

AAA/PBP propose a range of new taxes on the rich and corporations while Renua proposes a flat tax on all income.

The issue of abolition of USC (Fine Gael) or abolition on lower incomes (Fianna Fail and Labour) has been a big one in the election debates.

Sinn Fein is proposing a wealth tax.

 

Health, disability, childcare, communities etc., etc.

This election has been tracked buy more interest groups than any other.  EAPN Ireland Election Blog no. 3 lists a number of these, while Blog No 2 gives an overview from the point of view of the Community Platform’s Four Tests for the Next Government.

Some analyses of manifestos and party positions include:

 

And remember … It’s not over when the voting is finished.

Keep the information you have gathered during the election campaign and remind your representatives of their commitments as the new Programme for Government is negotiated and as the new Dáil debates policies to end poverty. The struggle conti8nues until poverty is ended.

 

Reminder: Here are the previous 9 EAPN Ireland election blogs:

9. Guest Blog – an Tánaiste Joan Burton, TD, Labour

8.  Ending homelessness

7.  Living wage’

6.  Guest Blog Gerry Adams TD, Sinn Fein

5.  Guest blog: Lucinda Creighton, TD, Renua

4.  Income and welfare

3.  Links to issues pages

2.  Community Platform’s Four Tests for the Next Government

1.  Intro: Poverty in the election 

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Guest Blog – an Tánaiste Joan Burton, TD

EAPN Ireland Election Blog No. 9joan burton

We asked all of the party leaders to present their view on the issues which they will take up in Government or Opposition over the next ten years to fight poverty in Ireland.

This is the third of the series, from an Tánaiste Joan Burton, leader of the Labour Party.  Labour’s Manifesto Standing up for Ireland’s Future can be read here.

The Labour Party’s focus in Government has been to build an Ireland of renewed prosperity, from the bottom up and middle out – rather than the top down. People’s economic rights are just as central as their social rights to living a complete and fulfilled life. The right to the best education we can provide. The right to a job with decent pay and conditions. The right to an affordable and secure home. The right to healthcare based on need, not wealth. The right to security of income in retirement.

Labour in Government set about building the jobs-led recovery that is now under way. Throughout it all, we prioritised protecting the most vulnerable in society to the greatest possible extent.

Other countries in similar economic difficulties slashed welfare rates. We maintained core weekly welfare rates, including the State pension. And we protected the welfare safety net when others wanted to reduce it.

Official figures show that Ireland’s welfare system is the most effective in the EU at preventing poverty. The economic recovery is now under way and our mission is to ensure that recovery reaches everyone in society. We want to secure the recovery, to spread the benefits, and do so in a fair way that raises living standards and lowers inequality.

We have increased the minimum wage by 20% to €9.15 per hour – about 48.5% of the estimated median wage.

A challenging but achievable target would be to reach 60% of the median wage by 2021.

This would imply a Minimum Wage of €11.30 in 2015 values.

In achieving that, we will be transforming the Minimum Wage into a Living Wage, and making sure that work pays for all women.

We secured the funding necessary to introduce a second year of free pre-school from next September, as well as a further increase to Child Benefit.

And we will do much more if re-elected – we will substantially increase paid parental leave, and make childcare affordable for all families.

Taken together, these measures will increase pay for women, and provide all women with the childcare necessary to allow them to participate in the workforce and benefit from that increased pay.

We are determined to eradicate child poverty. We want to continue the progress made in recent years.

The initiatives we are proposing will complement our proposals to introduce free GP care for all, to expand access to school meals, to introduce paid parental leave and high quality, affordable childcare, to eliminate long-term homelessness and to increase the minimum wage. Taken together, these measures will significantly reduce the number of children and young people living in poverty by 2021.

We will:

  • Put the elimination of child poverty at the centre of government policy
  • Provide the poorest schools with the staffing and funding needed to tackle educational disadvantage
  • Continue to expand the school meals programme so that no child goes hungry in school
  • Implement early intervention initiatives aimed at children and families in disadvantaged communities
  • Increase child benefit from €140 to €155 a month by 2021

In government, we have funded the introduction of Area-Based Childcare (ABC) programmes in areas of concentrated disadvantage such as Limerick, Ballymun and Tallaght. Rates of early school leaving have dropped below 10% for the first time. And we have increased funding for school meals. We will build on this work to end child poverty.

We will produce a new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion in 2017, with the eradication of child poverty the primary objective of that action plan. We will establish a new body – the End Child Poverty Commission to work to eradicate child poverty to make sure that we at least halve child poverty by 2021.

In government, we have ensured that early school leaving has fallen below 10% for the first time. We have reformed the Junior Cert to put an end to young disadvantaged boys, in particular, disengaging from school. We have provided State funding to iScoil for those who have disengaged from school. And we have increased funding for school meals.

We will increase the school leaving age to 17 to end a situation where one in ten drop out before getting a Leaving Cert. We will continue funding the ABC programmes and iScoil, and restore funding of School Completion Programmes to 2011 levels, and bring their governance and funding back within the education sector. Labour will rapidly expand the school meals programme, to ensure that no child goes hungry in school. We will identify the poorest schools in the country, in both urban and rural areas, and provide them with the funding, staffing and supports necessary to tackle deeply entrenched levels of disadvantage.

A progressive vision based on vindicating people’s economic rights can – and will – lower inequality. That is Labour’s vision – and the recovery is now giving us the leeway to increase welfare payments in targeted areas such as Child Benefit and the Christmas Bonus, reduce taxes for low and middle-income workers, invest in public services such as free GP care for young children, and provide more teachers and facilities for our schools.

Ending homelessness and providing decent accomodation

EAPN Ireland Election Blog No. 8

By Robin Hanan and Paul Ginnell,  EAPN Ireland

homeless not hopeless

EAPN Ireland’s Briefing on poverty and proposals for 2016-2021 calls for a strategy to end homelessness and ensure housing for all.

The EAPN Ireland papers says that:

  • “The strategy needs to increase the supply of housing to meet demand, so local authorities need to start building and providing social housing in a planned way to meet future needs. Approved Housing Bodies need to be recognised as providing housing and ease of access to finance needs to be available to them.
  • “It must also provide adequate resources to fully implement a Housing First approach to homelessness. People need to move out of emergency accommodation as soon as possible and not become trapped in homelessness longer than is necessary.
  • “Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payment must be increased to levels which meet market rents so that people can take up accommodation and avoid falling into homelessness.
  • “There is a need for an independent Traveller Accommodation Agency to oversee the provision of appropriate and quality accommodation, including Traveller specific accommodation that meets the needs of all Traveller families in a reasonable timeframe.”

 

The related challenges of housing and homelessness have been prominent in public debate particularly over the last year.

The specific challenges of addressing the accommodation crisis for Travellers has had less attention in the election debates, despite the public outcry over the Carrickmines tragedy.

Most parties in the election acknowledge the need for more social housing and homeless services, while some support a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the constitution.

 

The crisis and the responses from homeless organisations

bridge homelessAt the launch of their campaign to make homelessness an issue I the election, Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities, said:

“…In the absence of a sufficient social housing supply and as rents continue to increase, more people are ending up at risk of homelessness. Access to affordable housing with support is the only way we can end the current homeless crisis…”

 The Simon Communities points out that:

  • There are currently 5,324 men, women and children in emergency homeless accommodation nationally, 3,615 adults and 813 families with 1,709 children (DECLG, November 2015)
  • During one night in November 2015, there were 152 people without a safe place to sleep in Dublin City. This included 91 people sleeping rough and 61 people sheltering at the Nite Café (DRHE 2015). Unfortunately, Dublin is the only area where an official rough sleeper count takes place, making it difficult to get a countrywide rough sleeping picture. Figures from Cork Simon Community indicate that rough sleeping in Cork City increased seven-fold in three years (2011-2014).
  • Locked Out of the Market III (Simon Communities Study) found that 95% of rental properties are beyond the reach for those in receipt of state housing support. Of all the properties available to rent in the eleven regions studied, only one was available for a single person (Jan 2016) see http://www.simon.ie/Publications/Research.aspx

To address this, the Simon Communities propose four priorities: for the next Government;

  1. Comprehensive prevention and early intervention measures.
  2. Rapid rehousing using a Housing First approach.
  3. Access and priority for people who are homeless to affordable housing.
  4. Adequate support for people once housed including housing support, clinical support and support towards community reintegration, as necessary

 Focus Ireland poses five challenges to the parties:

  1. If elected will you commit to ending long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough and set a target date for achieving this? There is a record total of over 5,000 people homeless in Ireland. The vast majority are in emergency accommodation such as hostels or hotels with a small number sleeping rough.
  2. Will you commit (or lobby the Government) to build at least 40,000 social houses over the lifetime of the government? A record total of 100,000 households are on social housing waiting lists nationwide. That is one in every 16 households who are in need of social housing.
  3. Will you support holding a referendum on the ‘right to a home’ within the first three years of the next Government?
  4. Do you commit to ending family homelessness – what will you do to make this happen? There are over 1600 children in more than 700 families who are homeless in Ireland. Many are trapped in hotels or bed and breakfasts in one room with their children. Families are becoming homeless mostly for economic reasons. Many more households are also struggling to pay their rent or mortgage each month.
  5. Will you commit to ending the youth homelessness trap? Over 500 young people are trapped in emergency homeless accommodation, with a social welfare rate too low to provide them with a proper home and unable to get a job or training because they are homeless.

The Peter McVerry Trust’s proposals for the election covers:

  • Land, procurement and planning : local authorities to review their land banks and building stock to identify resources that could be used to deliver social housing.
  • Housing provision: the 30% – 50% allocation rates for special needs groups in social housing to be maintained until such time as long term homelessness and the need to sleep rough is eliminated.
  • A cabinet minister for housing & homelessness
  • Mainstreaming housing first and rolling it out nationally
  • Right to a home to be written into the constitution by referendum
  • Investment in prevention
  • Protecting and supporting children and young people. Investment and recruitment is required to ensure that every vulnerable child and young adult has, at a minimum, an allocated social worker and after care plan in place.
  • Drug treatment services: a health focused approach to combating drug misuse in Ireland…introduction of medically supervised injecting centres in urban centres across Ireland.. Funding to develop a network of accommodation options for persons exiting treatment and detox services.

Threshold’s election manifesto points out that:

One in five of people now live in the private rented sector. This percentage rises to up to one in three in urban areas. Many families have long-term homes in the rented sector, while the majority of new social housing will be sourced in the private rented sector.”

They call for a national strategy for the private rented sector which is

“…adequately resourced and has clear targets to address issues like long-term rent certainty, increasing affordable supply, improving the quality of rented housing, promoting institutional investment and dealing with the difficulties in the buy-to-let sector.”

Specifically, they propose:

  • An integrated approach, not a reactive and piecemeal one is needed.
  • A strategic approach to address complex issues including financing, regulation, standards, and welfare supports, as well social and affordable rents.
  • Reform to be able to attract long-term stable investment into the rented sector, especially from institutional investors.
  • A clear framework will have a positive effect on the wider housing market and the economy in general.
  • Incorporation of models that work in other countries that provide stability and affordability in the private rented sector.

 

What the parties sayhomeles simon

Below is a summary of the main proposals from the websites of the political parties (as always, we would be happy to hear of additions or corrections from any party which feels it has not been fully represented)

AAA/People Before Profit

  • Transform NAMA into a vehicle to provide tens of thousands of social and affordable homes, using its massive resources. .
  • Implement rent controls .
  • Write-down mortgages to affordable levels

(Anti Austerity Alliance:

  • making decent, secure and affordable housing available to everyone –  no one should ever be without decent, secure housing for economic reasons and no one should have to spend more than 10-15% of their income on housing.
  • An immediate ban on economic evictions – change the law so landlords cannot sell or refurbish a property without the tenant’s consent. An immediate rent freeze and progressive rent reductions to affordable levels.
  • A massive programme of direct construction of housing by local authorities to satisfy existing housing need and ensure adequate future supply.
  • Compulsory purchase of building land at agricultural prices to eliminate profiteering would further reduce costs;
  • Acquiring suitable buy-to-let and other private rental properties to immediately increase supply of affordable rented accommodation.
  • Writing down mortgages to affordable levels and writing off unsustainable arrears.)

(People before Profit:

  • Declare a national housing emergency
  • Build 50,000 council houses– 10,000 a year over 5 years. This will cost €3 billion in the first year and a total of €7 billion over 5 years, but it will become self-financing by year 6 and into the future. This programme will also provide jobs in the construction sector and add to revenue receipts.
  • Transfer of 20,000 NAMA housing units to local authorities.
  • Introduce immediate Rent Controls. Establish a new Rental Board that oversees rental prices according to transparent criteria. Reduce rents where they do not meet these criteria and limit rent increases to the rate of inflation.
  • Give tenants security of tenure to protect them against homelessness.
  • Legal measures to outlaw discrimination – an end to “Rent Allowance not Accepted”)

Fianna Fail

  • Raise rent supplement and tackle the homelessness emergency,
  • Increase construction activity to deliver 150,000 new homes by 2021 including 45,000 new social housing units,
  • Retain mortgage interest relief to 2020,
  • Create a special savings scheme to help first time buyers save for their deposit.
  • Restore the housing adaptation grant and the mobility aid scheme to their previous levels

Fine Gael

  • Double housing output to 25,000 per year by 2020.
  • Provide over 110,000 social housing units by 2020, through the delivery of 35,000 new units and meeting the housing needs of some 75,000 households through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS).
  • Review, in 2016, the disparate system of differentiated rents nationally to ensure that housing supports, including the HAP, are fair and sustainable, and prioritise those on the lowest incomes.
  • Introduce a new scheme to help people who are insolvent, and in mortgage arrears on their home, to access independent expert financial and legal advice.
  • improve the availability of finance for new home construction, with a €500m joint venture to finance the building of 11,000 new homes through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF).
  • Continue to deal with the remaining unfinished housing developments.
  • Work with housing associations to develop a cost rental option for low income families.
  • Promote a better balance of rights and protections for tenants and landlords.
  • Increase the Housing Adaptation grant scheme by a further 20% to €66m by 2021 so as to keep people in their homes.
  • End the need for rough sleeping by providing emergency beds and accommodation options and by supporting the Merchants Quay Night Café
  • Implement a housing-focused strategy to end involuntary long-term homelessness.
  • Provide 500 modular housing units
  • Return unnecessarily vacant social housing units to use (almost 5,000 void units were returned to productive use in the past 2 years)
  • Maintain a high level of support for homeless services,
  • Maintain the rent limits available under the HAP Homeless Pilot to 50% above the rent supplement levels

Green Party

  • .Hold a referendum to enshrine housing as a social right in the Constitution
  • Affordable homes, a strong private rental sector and a social housing system based on a cost rental model as proposed by the National Economic and Social Council .
  • Amalgamate the Housing Agency and the Housing Finance Agency to create the National Housing Authority, tasked with providing 7,500 units of social and affordable housing per annum. Further, this new authority would take the existing expertise developed within NAMA as that agency winds down.
  • Replace property tax with a new tax levied annually at a progressive rate on the site value of lands suitable for building.
  • Restore the Part (V) requirements to 20%.
  • Limit the amount by which a landlord can raise rent in any year to 7%.
  • Amend equality legislation to prevent tenants being rejected solely on the basis of receiving rent supplement
  • Create an online portal to facilitate the transfer of social housing between tenants – ultimately handled by the local housing department.
  • Audit local authorities’ delivery and implementation of Traveller accommodation plans.

Labour Party

  • Continue to work to ensure the successful delivery of the Social Housing Strategy involving delivering 110,000 social housing units by 2020 at a cost of €4bn, and to enhance social housing delivery as resources and new supply channels become available.
  • Regulation of the Approved Housing Bodies sector as a means to build capacity and further augment its ability to deliver housing.
  • Provide €300m to develop an affordable rental housing sector. Invest €100m to support construction by local authorities and others of affordable housing projects with a further €200m to support rents in 44,000 affordable housing units.
  • Build balanced, mixed tenure communities comprising different types of housing.
  • End rough sleeping and implement a housing-led approach to homelessness.
  • Provide houses as quickly as possible, including fastbuild homes, to take families out of emergency accommodation .
  • building mixed communities
  • local authorities will be supported to frontload the Part V contribution to part finance housing projects.
  • establish a nationally integrated asset management system in conjunction with the local authorities in order to ensure more efficient management of social housing stock.
  • As NAMA winds down its current operations, the agency take up a new remit as the Land Development Agency to ensure long-term housing demand is matched by available land.
  • Extend the “Empty Nester” scheme that is available in parts of Dublin city and county.
  • Establish a ‘Save to Buy’ scheme for aspiring home owners costing a maximum of €6,000 of saving over five years.
  • Further reform the law to ensure a stable, sustainable rental market for both tenants and landlords.
  • Give responsibility to the Housing Agency to address key concerns around housing for Travellers

Renua

  • Ten billion Euro investment in community housing.
  • Match existing public lands with private pension and investment funds to create mixed-tenure housing developments and improve the supply of accommodation in areas of high demand.
  • To address homelessness Local Authorities will be mandated to put an inter-agency plan in place to ensure a network of supports are made available to enable all those who want to live a full life are provided with avenues to achieve this goal.

Sinn Fein

  • Build at least 70,000 social units and at least 30,000 cost purchase and cost rental housing units by 2030.
  • .Strengthen Part V to ensure the delivery of 36,500 social and affordable houses. .review all property-related tax reliefs that encourage speculation for profit.
  • Re-examine the practice of capping rent subsidies .introduce rent regulations, to ensure rents demanded by landlords do not escalate to meet any increase in the rent cap. .create rent certainty by linking rent increases to inflation.
  • Make an additional €30 million available to LAs and homeless agencies to house the homeless in emergency accommodation in year one of government. .frontload funding to Local Authorities with a good track record of drawing down funds and providing Traveller accommodation, with penalties for those who refuse to build needed Traveller accommodation

Social Democrats

  • Legislate for Rent Certainty and secure occupancy.
  • New retro-fitting home energy scheme.
  • Establish a Local Authority Fund to enable more housing estates to be taken into charge.
  • New Department of Housing Communities and Planning with a Minister at full Cabinet level.
  • Establish a key new body, Housing Ireland (replacing the Housing Agency), and give it a central, hands-on coordinating remit in the procurement, planning, design and delivery of new homes and the creation of sustainable communities
  • Immediate increase in Rent Supplement/HAP limits as a short-term measure to prevent homelessness;
  • Reinstatement of the Part V requirement of 20% for social and starter housing
  • Rent Certainty, link rent increases in areas of high rental inflation to the cost of living.
  • Review of current security of tenure provisions to robustly strengthen tenure security

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EAPN Ireland Election Blogs – Index

door hanger

11.  General Election 2016: A non-systematic summary of how the parties did

10. Time to vote. Time to end poverty for good.

9. Guest Blog – an Tánaiste Joan Burton, TD, Labour

8.  Ending homelessness

7.  Living wage’

6.  Guest Blog Gerry Adams TD, Sinn Fein

5.  Guest blog: Lucinda Creighton, TD, Renua

4.  Income and welfare

3.  Links to issues pages

2.  Community Platform’s Four Tests for the Next Government

1.  Intro: Poverty in the election 


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