Round Up of Budget Responses from Irish Charities

Irish charities have been reacting – with varying degrees of dismay and disappointment – to the recent budget. Fundingpoint.ie has compiled and edited a selection of these response for reference.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul

The St Vincent de Paul (SVP) believes that this budget has no positive message for low earners or those under threat of losing their jobs. SVP is very concerned at a number of aspects in this budget where the cumulative effect will be to bring those in low paid work further into poverty.

Taxing those Below the Minimum Wage
30% of people already in poverty have a job. Bringing those below the minimum wage into the tax net through the income levy will only exacerbate this problem.  Coupled with the loss of the Early Childcare Supplement and the looming threat of taxing child benefit in the next budget, the situation facing low paid families is bleak.  Despite the falling Consumer Price Index, inflation in the areas of food, fuel, education, health and transport continues to rise. These are the areas where poorer households spend a significant proportion of their income.

Job Seekers Allowance
SVP is totally opposed to any moves to reduce welfare rates. In relation to the reduction in job seekers allowance to the under 20’s SVP understand the rationale for the change.  However, SVP is concerned that there may not be sufficient places in the system to cater for all new entrants. SVP is also concerned for families where a young job seeker is contributing to the household budget.  

Rent Supplement
The changes in the Rent Supplement Scheme do nothing to protect vulnerable tenants, and are likely to worsen their situation. Due to changes made both in the October budget and this budget, recipients of Rent Supplement have now had to pay an additional 11 euro per week contribution towards their rent.

In reducing the rent supplement rates the DSFA ‘hopes’ that landlords will reduce their rents and release tenants from contracts which they have signed. There is no incentive for landlords to do this. Those who will suffer because of this measure are people reliant on rent supplement to meet their housing needs. SVP is still paying rent supplement top ups to landlords and this will certainly continue. This has been a missed opportunity for Government to enhance the Rental Accommodation Scheme which provides security of tenure for both tenants and landlords and is linked to quality standards.

Christmas Bonus
The decision not to pay the Christmas bonus is regrettable.  It will have the effect of forcing many families to increase their borrowing to meet additional costs at this time.

Early Childcare and Education
Finally, SVP warmly welcome the provision of a free Early Childcare and Education year for all pre-school children.  This will significantly improve children’s ability to reach their potential within the education system.

 

National Youth Council of Ireland

Government breaks its promise not to cut social welfare

The National Youth Council of Ireland expressed its dismay that Government has broken its promise not to reduce social welfare by cutting job seekers allowance in half for young people aged 18 and 19 years.
The rate of youth unemployment has soared in the last year and Government has failed to develop any coherent strategy to address it. “We reject the proposal that this measure will encourage young people to find work or return to education or training on the basis that the jobs are simply not there and few education and training opportunities have been provided to date,” commented Eddie D’Arcy, President of NYCI.
Having sustained a large cut of 10% in the October 2008 Budget we acknowledge that Government responded to our representations not to further slash the funding for youth work at a time when the needs of young people are increasing.

“We are concerned at the level and extent of tax increases, especially for young people earning less than the minimum wage.  By doing this we are going to add to the numbers of working poor by imposing a 2% income levy on those earning as little as €289 a week before tax. Other measures such as the increase in the levy from 2% to 3% on non-life insurance will impact negatively on young drivers who already pay very high motor insurance premiums. In addition we are disappointed that the Government have sought to further tax savings by increasing DIRT tax at a time when we should be encouraging prudence and personal investment,” Mr. D’Arcy concluded.

 

Threshold

On the issue of cuts in rent supplement benefit for social welfare recipients, Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of the national housing organisation, Threshold, has said that a reduction in the supplement will put social welfare tenants at great risk of homelessness.

"Rents have simply not fallen in high demand areas - such as Dublin City Centre - and a reduction in the supplement will put social welfare tenants at great risk of homelessness," she warned.

 

Barnardos

Children's charity Barnardos has welcomed the announcement of the introduction of a free pre-school place for all children the year prior to joining primary school.

Norah Gibbons, Barnardos' Director of Advocacy said: "We have long fought for the introduction of this measure and are delighted that our calls have been heeded. Research has shown that investment in early years education is a cost effective use of resources and has well proven benefits to society and children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, both during childhood and into adulthood. While details are not yet available we urge that quality is the byword for this provision and that emphasis is placed equally on education and care."

While Barnardos also welcomed that no reduction in the basic social welfare rates will be made, the organisation expressed concern that the reduction to the rent supplement scheme announced today will adversely affect those living in the private rented sector and increase their risk of homelessness. Ms. Gibbons said: "Although rent levels have reduced, this has largely not been the case in the lower end of the rental sector. This measure will increase the financial pressure on those on social welfare and give them less choice in terms of accommodation options."

Speaking about reductions in expenditure, Ms. Gibbons expressed concern that although no details were released today such reductions could mean that frontline services for children and families would be curtailed. "Early intervention and prevention is vital to ensuring that children, particularly those in disadvantage, receive the right supports before difficulties reach crisis point."

Lastly, Barnardos is disappointed that the Jobseekers Allowance rate will be halved for those under 20 years of age. Early school leavers are particularly at risk of unemployment and this measure, while designed to encourage training among this group, does not recognise the costs associated with training. Youth unemployment was a continuous feature of the Celtic Tiger era and this group is particularly vulnerable to unemployment during this recession. Without adequate supports and increased training places this group is liable to become the long term unemployed of tomorrow.

 

Disability Federation of Ireland

Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) has welcomed the decision not to reduce the level of social welfare payments, saying that it assists disabled people with the extra everyday costs of being disabled. However, it also called for an agreed multi-annual plan to rescue the implementation of the National Disability Strategy.

 

Irish Rural Link

- Cuts in rural schools, roads, public transport, community and sustainable energy investment will all depress rural economy even further.

Irish Rural Link (IRL) - the national organisation campaigning for sustainable rural communities – today expressed disappointment at the Government’s emergency Budget saying the cumulative effect of tax increases and measures hidden deep within the budget would further harm the rural economy.

IRL Chief Executive Seamus Boland said “The Government’s persistent desire to introduce a carbon tax without recognising its disproportionate impact on rural households is regrettable and we once again call for real engagement with rural communities on the issue. The 5 cent increase on diesel represents a creeping carbon tax that will hurt rural households as diesel is the predominate fuel in rural areas. Rural households spend almost four times as much on diesel than urban ones. The public transport and renewable energy cuts announced in the budget confirms a lack of commitment to measures which will ameliorate carbon tax’s negative effects.”

Mr. Boland continued “There is significant deprivation in rural Ireland already with two thirds of the economically poor living in rural areas and almost a quarter of farm families living with an income below the minimum wage. Rural households disposable income is already below that of their urban counterparts.
The budget has announced a €150 million cut in road investment and the Minister has indicated that this reduction is to be applied mainly to regional and local roads. Reducing accessibility and connectivity in regional Ireland is misguided and will prevent these areas from developing.

Community and Voluntary groups in rural areas have a strong track record of fostering local enterprise and skills. The announced cuts in supports for the community and voluntary sector and local and community development programmes compromises the ability of local communities to harness local enterprise and innovation which is more vital now than ever.”

“IRL fear that the cumulative effect of this budget will further depress economic activity in rural areas and increase the pressure on small rural businesses, risking a downward spiral of further jobs losses and business closures” Mr Boland concluded.

 

National Women's Council of Ireland

'Giving with one hand, taking away with the other'

"The NWCI welcomes the announcement of a free 'early childcare and education year for all' pre-school aged children but remains extremely concerned at the targeting of child benefit for means-testing or taxation," stated Orla O'Connor, Acting Director, NWCI.

Over the past number of years, the NWCI and women's groups throughout Ireland have been highlighting the appalling gap in Early Childhood Care and Education  in Ireland.  The Minister's announcement of a free pre-school place for one year for every child is an important step in addressing the childcare crisis, in particular for families in poverty. However, the manner in which the scheme will be implemented remains unclear , given the poor childcare infrastructure currently in place, particularly in rural areas', she continued.

The NWCI called on the Minister to reverse his decision to tax or means-test child benefit as a universal payment until such a time as there is a fully-subsidised quality childcare infrastructure in Ireland.

The NWCI expressed disappointment at the inclusion of those on the minimum wage into the tax net. 'We believe that the targeting of those on the minimum wage could have been avoided by introducing a more graded approach to the income levy' she concluded.

The NWCI awaits with concern to other cuts to public expenditure and the impact on women's organisations in the community and voluntary sector.

 

CORI Justice

Budget lacks vision as banks escape and children are targeted

This Budget lacks a guiding vision. This in turn gives rise to some very serious problems. The Budget allows many of those who created the present series of crises, particularly the banks, to escape.  At the same time the vulnerable, particularly children, are targeted to pay for the misbehaviour and fraud of others. 

Government made a sensible decision to change its borrowing parameters. However, it showed a profound lack of understanding of the social crisis that Ireland is currently facing. 

Visit the CORI Justice website for their comprehensive budget analysis.

 

One Family

One Family, the leading provider of specialist support services for one-parent families in Ireland, says yesterday’s Budget will do nothing to address increase already high rates of poverty in one parent families.  Such families currently have a poverty rate of more than four times the national average. One Family welcomes the introduction of the free one-year early childhood and education year which will bring benefits to all children especially those in low income families. 

However, the organisation highlighted the falling incomes experienced by one-parent families in Ireland. This occurs through a combination of reduced employment opportunities and hours of work, increased difficulties in securing and providing maintenance, higher income levies at lower entry points, reduced rent supplement and through the abolition of the Early Childcare Supplement. The abolition of the Christmas bonus will also have a very negative effect on many one parent families.

Candy Murphy, Policy Manager, One Family, said: “While we recognise that hard choices had to be made any reduction in income going into a one-parent family home will have very negative effects.  The abolition of the Early Childcare Supplement will mean a significant drop in income for lone parents on low incomes.’  Ms Murphy continued: “We must ensure that these income cuts are not reinforced by a reduction in opportunities for lone parents to progress from welfare into work, education or training. One Family calls on the Government to prioritise the maintenance and development of services for those most distant from the labour market, including lone parents, to include accessible  training and education services, housing and childcare support and through ongoing support for innovative interventions such as One Family’s very successful New Futures programme’. 

 

Open

Regarding the Supplementary Budget, OPEN, the national lone parent organisation has issued its preliminary analysis.

“While many of the biggest threats for people struggling on low incomes did not appear to come to pass in today’s budget, it contained some very harsh measures, particularly for families struggling on low pay”, stated Camille Loftus, Head of Policy & Research at OPEN, “The stealth cut of abolishing the Christmas bonus means that Santa may not visit many children this year – or alternatively, parents will end up in debt to predatory money lenders charging extortionate rates of interest”.

“Turning to the callous Rent Supplement changes”, Ms. Loftus continued, “Almost 20% lone parents on social welfare rely on this support to pay their rent.  The detailed information the Department of Social & Family Affairs issued some three hours after the Budget speech indicates that lone parents and others who receive this crucial housing support will have to negotiate on an individual basis.  This will pit vulnerable tenants against one of the country’s most powerful sectors- private landlords.  The Department appears to be asking families to sink or swim in relation to this vital housing support.  In fact in its press release the Department actually states that ‘it is hoped that landlords will decrease the rent’ but if they don’t, the Minister doesn’t appear to care”.

“Getting rid of the Early Childcare Supplement means a 7% decrease in the basic social welfare package for a lone parent with one child for more than 4 years. While OPEN welcomes the approach of channeling this expenditure into the provision of a free year in early childhood care and education – an approach that has long been advocated by child advocates, and indeed the NESF, we believe that a compensatory increase in targeted child support e.g. in Child Dependent Allowances and Family Income Supplement should have been implemented to protect the poorest families”, commented Loftus.

“Vulnerable unemployed people have little to gain from this Budget too – the measures announced clearly favour the more recently unemployed, and those with the strongest prospects of securing further employment. In contrast, measures to support those who have been unemployed for some time, or who previously worked in low paid jobs, are minimal, and inadequate”, stated Loftus and it is worrying that the Back to Work Allowance – one of the most successful labour market supports developed – has been axed for new entrants.  In effect the most vulnerable are being asked to pay for measures targeted at those in a better position to get back to work”.

“And for those workers struggling in low paid jobs, where their hours are being reduced, and their wages cut – they now have to pay a higher income levy as well as double the rate of Health Levy. This will be a really severe hit on workers struggling to hold on in such difficult times”, concluded Camille Loftus.

 

Focus Ireland

Focus Ireland has warned that changes made in the Budget which have cut eligibility to the rent supplement scheme will put more vulnerable families and single people at serious risk of becoming homeless.

The housing and homeless charity made the claim as more details of changes to the eligibility criteria for the rent supplement scheme have now emerged following the measures taken in last week’s Mini Budget. 

Focus Ireland has called on the Government to urgently reverse the decision in order to prevent more people becoming homeless.  Focus Ireland said that if the decision is not reversed it will act to undo much of the solid progress made in recent years in combating and preventing homelessness in Ireland.

Focus Ireland CEO Joyce Loughnan said: “While by no means perfect the rent supplement system has allowed relatively speedy access to accommodation in the private rented sector for families and individuals in urgent need of housing.  It has acted as a “safety net” to prevent many people becoming homeless and entering the system of emergency accommodation. “

Ms Loughnan said: “We are highly concerned this decision to change who is eligible will act to trap people living in situations such as domestic abuse as the changes mean they would not be able to apply for rent supplement if they had to leave their home.  It will also impact on people who lose their home suddenly due to illness or a bereavement as they are now no longer eligible to apply for rent supplement.”

Focus Ireland also criticised the proposed 8% reduction in the Rent Supplement Scheme and warned this will have a significant impact on the weekly income of some of the poorest families in society.  The charity said that rather than forcing rents down in the private sector (As the Government expects) the move is more likely to force already hard-pressed families to make up the shortfall from their social welfare payments. "

Focus Ireland said that there has been much good work done in recent years to address poverty and homelessness by many voluntary organisations in partnership with the Government and other bodies.  However, the charity warned some of the measures taken in the Budget run the risk of acting to undo much of the solid progress made.

 

 

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